Bill Gates wants someone to make a super condom that feels good - and that condom may be made from animal tendons. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation awarded 11 condom innovators $100,000 on Wednesday to develop "a next-generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure."
Mark W. McGlothlin, president of Apex Medical Technologies in San Diego, thinks he's the man for the job. McGlothlin has gained plenty of attention for developing a condom prototype from beef tendon he bought at a Vietnamese grocery store, but he bemoaned the fact that this facet is the one that has been picked up by the media. "That's not the point," he told Metro. "The Vietnamese grocery store just a convenient place for me to get raw materials for the experiments. It doesn't have to be from beef tendon."
What it is the point, then? It's that this product may one day be an alternative that feels much better than latex and polyurethane condoms and costs about the same. These ultra-thin condoms will protect users against STDs and pregnancy, and also feel just like skin. McGlothlin got the idea to use animal tendons because they are an inexpensive source of collagen.
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"Skin is composed of many things but the major constituent is collagen, which is the building block of all animal life and what we want to do is make basically a fake skin condom," he said. "Tendons are commercially available so we’re trying to take the collagen from the waste of animal products. Not too many people use tendon – it’s not a high value item."
Fret not: These condoms are not simply made of raw tendon slices. Collagen fibrils are extracted from tendons and mixed with a solution, then molded and dried into a film. "It's almost like a leather, but micro, micro, micro thin," said McGlothlin. And because collagen fibrils can be extracted from essentially any animal waste products, manufacturers in developing countries with limited access to latex or polyurethane will be able to take advantage of the technology as well. "Part of our proposal is to let the third world countries make their own condoms with their own waste material. It will be a good tie into the fishing or animal industries," he said.
Unlike lambskin condoms, which have fat deposits and veins, these condoms will be consistent. When asked if his version could be compared to the McNugget version of a lambskin condom, McGlothlin laughed. "Yes," he said. "It's a more perfect version of a lambskin condom. It's not synthetic, but it's highly processed. It's a Frankenfood."
In other words, they don't smell like meat (or anything at all, according to McGlothlin) and they look more or less like regular, translucent condoms, though they won't come rolled. "It'll be more like putting on a sock," said McGlothlin. These lubricated condoms don't stretch, so McGlothlin said they will either have to come in several sizes or in a larger size with a band at the end to keep them in place.
But don't hold your breath for these condoms. McGlothlin and his team are still very much in the beginning stages of development. "If we're very, very fortunate, we're three-and-a-half to four years away," he said, citing the arduous process of receiving FDA approval.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark