OHSU Researchers Study New Contraceptives for Women as Part of National Network

03/09/05    Portland, Ore.

Although several new options for birth control have entered the market in the past several years, including the patch, the ring and a new IUD, all of these methods use hormones. Non-hormonal choices for contraceptives essentially have remained the same for many years. Women worldwide have expressed interest in new non-hormonal, female-controlled options for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Now, across the country there are researchers studying new non-hormonal methods. Oregon Health & Science University is one of 14 sites in the National Institutes of Health Contraceptive Clinical Trial Network (CCTN), a seven-year $250,000 contract. The CCTN provides federal funds to an experienced group of research centers dedicated to the development of novel contraceptive mechanisms.

This was welcome news to Erin Ciccio, 28, Portland, who was looking for something different to use in place of birth control pills for contraception.

Ciccio enrolled in the first of the female-focused OHSU Women's Health Research task orders, which is studying the effectiveness of a novel spermicidal gel in preventing pregnancy. This study is funded by the NIH for $505,303.

"I got into the study because the ad said it was a non-hormonal contraceptive. I wanted something without hormones. I didn't want to use the pill, plus it was hard to remember to take every day," said Ciccio, a massage therapist and administrative assistant.

OHSU researchers are hoping to attract other healthy women such as Ciccio who are aged 18 to 40 and interested in using a new spermicidal gel designed to prevent pregnancy and possibly some sexually transmitted diseases. It is a randomized, controlled study. The gel will be studied in comparison with a commercially available spermicide. Researchers hope to demonstrate that the new gel is more effective and better tolerated than nonoxynl-9, the only currently marketed product.

Ciccio said that she has received good health information from study personnel. She spent just 90 minutes in her first interview for the study and participated in two 20-minute follow up visits.

Early results have shown the gel to be 85 percent effective in preventing pregnancies. The investigational product also shows promise of enhanced activity against a range of sexually transmitted infections. Early evidence also shows that the gel has antibacterial qualities to combat multiple diseases, including HIV, herpes simplex virus, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and human papillomavirus, according to Jeffrey T. Jensen, M.D., principal investigator and director of Women's Health Research Unit. He also is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and public health and preventive medicine, OHSU Center for Women's Health, OHSU School of Medicine.

The gel is inserted via applicator into the vagina prior to intercourse. It works by disturbing the surface coatings of sperm, bacteria, and viruses. This action kills sperm and inactivates infectious microorganisms.

"This is encouraging news. There is a global need for female-controlled contraceptives as well as anti-infective agents. In many parts of the world, and also in abuse situations, women do not have the means or the power to be able to use contraceptives or anti-infective agents with their partners. Almost 70 percent of HIV in women is due to heterosexual contact. It's estimated by J.E. Darroch and J.J. Frost in a published study in Family Planning Perspectives, that 21 million women in this country alone would be interested in an effective vaginal antiviral product," Jensen said.

This study is still open to participants. Further studies include: breakage and slippage testing of as nonlatex condom and a contraceptive gel with a diaphragm.

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