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A new hormone-free contraceptive for women (2018-04-06)

A hormone-free women's contraceptive with no side effects is one promising use for a new technique developed by Thomas Crouzier's group at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

The distribution of chitosan over a mucin drop is shown in flourescence. Image: Thomas Crouzier

The approach consists of cross-linking the mucus gel with chitosan, a type of polysaccharide derived from chitin, the substance that develops in the hard outer shells of crustaceans such as shrimp and crayfish.

The material tightens the mucin polymer mesh barrier which lines the mucosal epithelium of our body’s cavities, says Thomas Crouzier, a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

The mucus gel covers the wet epithelia that forms the inner lining of the body.
It constitutes our first line of defense protecting the body from infections and other deleterious molecules.
Failure of the mucus barrier can lead to the inflammation of the mucosa which is the problem behind inflammatory bowel diseases, rhinitis, acid reflux and other syndromes.

The polymer which they use slowed the diffusion of dextran polymers and cholera protein through the mucous gels, the researchers reported in the recent issue of Biomacromolecules.

And in the cervix, the usually impervious mucous barrier naturally becomes slack during ovulation, allowing sperm to penetrate and fertilize eggs.

“The polymeric material can close this possibility, and could prevent fertilization from occurring,” Crouzier says. “In this way, we get a contraceptive that is not based on hormones and has no side effects.”

These results uncover a new use for low molar mass mucoadhesive polymers such as chitosans as noncytotoxic mucosal barrier enhancers that could be valuable in the prevention and treatment of mucosal diseases.

Through his private company, Crouzier is working toward bringing a product to market. He says the contraception could be applied as a small vaginal capsule that quickly dissolves. The blocking effect has been shown to be fast, within minutes, he says.

The 100 percent bio-based material produces no unwanted side effects because it only modifies the superficial mucus layer, whether used in contraception or other therapies, such as treatment of ulcers in mucous membranes and inflammatory bowel diseases.

The researchers have also worked to improve other properties of mucous membranes, such as lubrication and moisturization.

Previous work by the research team led to progress in treating dry mucous membranes.

Crouzier is the leader of the Biopolymers for Life research group at KTH’s School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health, in the Department of Chemistry and the division of Glycoscience.

For more information
Reinforcing Mucus Barrier Properties with Low Molar Mass Chitosans

Biopolymers for Life research group

KTH’s School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health

Division of Glycoscience