MWRI’s Battle Against Female HIV Infections At The Heart Of The Epidemic

December 1 was World AIDS Day, and though the day has passed, we still think about the global toll of HIV and AIDS .  There were about 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS globally in 2016. There were about 1.8 million new infections in 2016 or about 5,000 new infections per day. Globally, young women are twice as likely to acquire HIV as their male counterparts. And among women aged 15-29, HIV is the third leading cause of death. That’s why researchers at Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI), where all attention is on women and infants, are so focused on preventing HIV transmission among women.

Over the last few years, these researchers have made numerous strides in female HIV prevention.

Dissolving Film Strips that combat HIV

In 2012, MWRI pioneers began developing dissolvable vaginal film strips that could offer HIV protection. In 2015 they began designing these products so that protection could be extended to multiple days. The film strips are extremely slim, allowing women to transport and use them discreetly. Even better, each strip can be manufactured for a fraction of a penny, allowing affordable mass-production and distribution.


With grants from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MWRI team has successfully created an extended release film prototype and has teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University behavioral and social scientists to test this prototype in women.


Thanks to the film’s versatility, it could also become a vehicle for delivering other medications as well. For example, a film could be created to provide both HIV protection and act as a contraceptive.

Ringing in HIV

More recently, the team at MWRI ddemonstrated that a vaginal ring containing an antiretroviral drug was safe and helped  protect against HIV among women who used it for a month at a time. Researchers from  the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) at MWRI and the University of Pittsburgh have spearheaded among the most important studies of  the dapivirine vaginal ring, including a study involving adolescent girls and young women in which 95% of trial participants said they thought the ring was easy to use, 93% reported they liked using it, and 74% said they weren’t aware of the ring during daily activity. And based on results of a study in lactating women, which found only  traces of dapivirine is transferred into  breast milk and plasma , MTN researchers are now planning a series of trials involving pregnant and breastfeeding women.


These, like many MTN studies, are being conducted  where a product like the dapivirine is needed most—sub-Saharan Africa—where women are the face of the epidemic.

How You Can Help

Magee-Womens Research Institute is working hard to end HIV and AIDS. You can assist researchers by donating directly to MWRI. By keeping the research funded, we can work to eliminate HIV together.