by Dr. Simon Cook
The work of a team of researchers at Swinburne University aims to revolutionise sexual health and wellbeing with the design of a new condom that challenges the existing paradigms of barrier protection.
The research was initiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s (B&MGF) Grand Challenges to improve condom uptake, as part of the Foundation’s strategic focus on the impact of HIV AIDS on global populations and a goal to improve sexual health globally.
In 2015, as a result of close collaboration between the University of Wollongong and Swinburne University of Technology, Project Geldom presented as a design-led innovation response following extensive research into new materials and the social stigma of condom use.
Utilising a new material known as a tough hydrogel, developed at the University of Wollongong’s Australian Centre of Excellence for Material Science, Project Geldom is redefining the way condoms are developed by combining human-centred design principles with the material’s unique material properties. The hydrogel’s skin-like feel offers kinaesthetic advantages that can be combined with innovation in manufacturing, packaging and distribution of condoms to address diverse global needs. In line with the B&MGF Global Challenges goals to increase condom usage, the hydrogel condom offers the possibility of improving pleasure while retaining the protection and safety standards of current latex and polyisoprene condoms.
The materials science pioneering the new hydrogel is led by Associate Professor Robert Gorkin and his team at the University of Wollongong. Swinburne researchers were brought on board to drive the design-led innovation process. With the establishment of the Iverson Institute – named after the late Professor Don Iverson, Dean of FHAD and a pioneer in design for health initiatives that led the auspicious partnership between SUT and UoW - Project Geldom can integrate a full complement of health and medical researchers working in collaboration with the Centre for Design Innovation.
The team at the University of Wollongong refined the science behind this remarkable material, and Swinburne has been able to provide the expertise in design-led innovation and human centred design. The wider team collaborated on design and materials research requirements to secure the second-round funding from the Gates Foundation.
Project Geldom is one of two green-lit programs for Phase II funding, from a group of 22 other programs that were involved in the first-round. Project Geldom was originally chosen from a pool of over 2000 applicants.
Finding ways to successfully improve the public perception of condoms and maintaining good sexual health practices in developing countries is Geldom’s current focus, culminating in user testing scheduled to be conducted in Kenya by the end of 2018.
“Swinburne prioritises human-centred design because we understand that just changing the material isn’t going to make people want to use a condom,” says project lead Dr Simon Cook.
“We’ve gone above and beyond the material science to understand the challenges people face when using a condom and what might make them an easier and more enjoyable way to have safe sex.”