A lubricant made with cow slime could protect against HIV and herpes, scientists say.
Lab experiments showed that the gel, which would be applied in the same way as the current store-bought ones, could beat the sexually transmitted diseases.
Human cells treated with the lubricant first were 70 to 80 percent less likely to become infected with HIV and herpes.
The researchers said their “promising” creation could slow the spread of STDs, if made public after further testing.
The researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, investigated whether mucus could prevent STDs from entering the body and spreading in the same way. The team, led by researcher Hongji Yan, extracted mucus from cows’ salivary glands, which they turned into a mucin-based lubricant.
In laboratory experiments, researchers in Sweden exposed human cells to the sexually transmitted infections. The results show that cells first exposed to their lubricant — made from a component of cow slime — were 70 to 80 percent less likely to become infected with HIV and herpes. Pictured: Slime-based lubricant (yellow liquid) that traps HIV and HSV viruses (pink and blue particles)
How can you protect yourself against an STD?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital, oral or anal contact.
Anyone who has sex can get an STD, even if they don’t have many sexual partners.
Using a condom during sex is the best way to avoid getting an STI.
Health leaders also encourage people to get tested with their partners before sexual activity, even if they don’t have any symptoms — the way many STDs don’t.
Sexual health clinics are the best place to get tested.
Mucus — found in the nose, throat, and esophagus — traps bacteria, viruses, and debris to keep them from reaching and damaging the lungs.
Mucus is also packed with protective proteins that help break down these germs and force them out of the body through coughing and sneezing.
The main component of mucus — a protein called mucin — is believed to have antiviral properties.
The researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, investigated whether mucus could prevent STDs from entering the body and spreading in the same way.
The team, led by researcher Hongji Yan, extracted mucus from cows’ salivary glands, which they turned into a mucin-based lubricant.
In a petri dish, the team then exposed human epithelial cells, which line the inside of the body, to HIV-1 — the most common version of the virus — or HSV-2, which causes genital herpes.
Half of the cells had been pretreated with the gel.
The researchers removed the gel from the cells treated with it and exposed them to the viruses for two days.
The results, published in the scientific journal Advanced Science, show that only 30 percent of cells mixed with the lubricant became infected with HIV.
In comparison, 100 percent of human cells exposed to HIV alone became infected.
Meanwhile, only 20 percent of human cells mixed with the gel and HPV became infected, compared to all cells exposed to the virus alone.
The researchers said this shows that the gel stopped the transmission of HIV by 70 percent and herpes by 80 percent.
The lubricant works by “catching” the virus particles and removing them from the body — replicating the “self-healing” function that mucus naturally provides in the body, the scientists said.
The mucin in the gel also hinders the activation of immune cells, which are known to fuel HIV replication in the body, the team said.
And if the lubricant were to be used by humans, the researchers say there is little chance of side effects or antiviral resistance because mucin is already found in the body.
Mr Yan said the gel could help people “gain more control over their sexual health.”
He said: ‘It could provide protection when condom protection is not available, or even back-up protection in the event of condom malfunction or misuse.
“It can be used in both female-to-male sex and male-to-male sex.”
As it stands, people are advised to use condoms during sex and get tested before having sex with a new partner to prevent the spread of STDs.
Last year around 3,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in the UK, while more than 20,000 were diagnosed with genital herpes in the UK.
In the US, approximately 35,000 people are diagnosed with HIV each year, while 570,000 people contract genital herpes.
STI rates had been gradually rising before Covid hit, but lockdowns have naturally reduced rates as people were less able to hook up for casual sex and flirtation.