Gates Foundation funds next generation condoms

The next generation of condoms could be on the way after funding was granted to an Australian university to further work on its skin-like prophylactics.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the University of Wollongong $100,000 (£55,874) in funding to develop condoms researchers hope will make men "want to wear one".

Microsoft founder Mr Gates has been a campaigner for lowering human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) rates for many years and the foundation has supported various new tools and innovations in this area. Over 33 million people around the world are currently living with HIV and many contract it because they have sex without using condoms.

Biomedical engineer research fellow Robert Gorkin is leading the Australian condoms project and he explained the funding boost will help researchers to pinpoint the right material to use.

The university has so far been experimenting with the use of a hydrogel substance which could lead to the next generation of condoms. It is claimed that they will be able to "act, feel and look" more like real skin.

"We wouldn't be able to do it if we didn't have the funding," Mr Gorkin told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We're so so grateful, this enables us to be focused on the project."

Work on the condoms project is already well underway and the lead researcher noted that a team of material scientists, microbiologists and biomedical engineers has been put together.

He said: "We're in the process of screening materials to find a match that works well together. It's a tough job trying to find the right mix for this application - it's a huge challenge."

The scheme has already raised eyebrows in some quarters as Mr Gorkin set about collecting the items he needed to start work on developing the condoms.

He explained: "I had to go into a sex shop and talk to the owner about the different types of dildos that could withstand certain temperatures and other things."

Team member and materials engineer Sina Naficy added that the hydrogels being used on the programme are made of "wet, soft, squishy material" that are very similar to human body tissue.

Mr Gorkin noted one of the driving factors of the research is to "design condoms that men want to use because they increase sexual pleasure".