Isn’t it great when teens have safe sex on their mind? Three British teenagers have come up with the idea of condoms that change color when they come in contact with STDs.
Daanyaal Ali and Chiraf Shah, both aged 14 and Muaz Nawaz aged 13 are students at the Isaac Newton Academy of London. Their idea won the TeenTech Award for contribution to global population health and there are a few condom manufacturers that warmed up to concept.
What the three teenage boys had in mind was that the color-changing condoms are bathed in antibodies which interact with the STDs antigens, resulting in a rainbow of color-recognizance STDs.
For syphilis the boys thought of blue. In the case the condom was exposed to chlamydia, it would turn green. For herpes the color-changing condom would glow yellow, while for human papilloma virus is would turn purple.
A commendable idea and a great boost for the three teenagers. Yet, medically, ethically and technologically, their idea of color-changing condoms does not stand its ground.
The scientific method that underpins the boys’ idea has been around for decades. It is called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and it is a testing method that implies the use of color-changing enzymes when in contact with certain antibodies and a third chemical.
However, while the base idea for color-changing condoms is not a bad one, the technological process through which enzymes are shifting their coloring is quite complex. A plastic medium that would react almost instantly in contact with antibodies or antigens of STDs is simply not feasible.
Not without some years of research at least. The ELISA tests are based on a medium that can hold the chemical and the antibodies for a long period. Dr. Maureen Baldwin of the Oregon Health and Science University, quoted by Forbes stated:
“I currently don’t know of any model like this (immuno-assays on plastic) except on paper, so there would have to be some kind of new technology in plastics, but that would add some bulk to the plastic”.
Considering the three teenagers’ idea to make the color-changing condom work on both sides, adding to the plastic protective layer would definitely add more than a little bulk.
A second point to address concerning the color-changing condoms is the way the testing would actually be conducted. Currently, chlamydia and gonorrhea testing implies the use of urine and vaginal swabs, it’s true.
Yet, it is not the antibodies of the two STDs that are looked at, but the bacteria’s DNA. Other STDs like syphilis, HIV or B and C Hepatitis are tested via blood samples. They are tested for the antibodies, yet the usual collection of fluids that ends up in a condom wouldn’t do much to help the teenagers’ idea.
Another point that is worth raising is that HIV and Hepatitis tests for instance always require confirmation due to their complexity. After sinuous lab work, the tests are confirmed or infirmed, but the process is lengthy.
A color-changing condom testing for these same STDs would imply a sort of test being conducted in a matter of seconds or minutes to be truly relevant.
These arguments as well as a few others have been brought to the table by clinicians looking at the feasibility of color-changing condoms.
The truth is that while the three teenagers’ idea is indeed remarkable in terms of addressing a health concern that is boggling researchers worldwide, it is currently not feasible.
Image Source: takepart.com
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