Australian researchers said Wednesday they have developed a means of producing a "natural condom" which could prevent the spread of AIDS.
The Melbourne researchers said they believe men could reduce their risk of contracting the HIV virus, which causes the deadly disease AIDS, by applying the female hormone, oestrogen, to their penis once a week.
University of Melbourne researcher Professor Roger Short said that use of an oestrogen cream could quadruple the thin layer of the protein keratin on the skin and thereby provide a natural defensive layer.
"You create what you could call a natural condom," Short told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"You create a biological membrane which the virus can't get through."
Short, a strong advocate of the circumcision of men as a protection against HIV, said he had not yet done tests to prove that the virus was defeated by the keratin cover.
But the researchers said the technique, which does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy, could provide a cheap and simple method of guarding against HIV around the world.
The research, detailed in the Public Library of Science medical journal PLoS ONE, is expected to be tested in clinical trials in Africa.