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Few women enjoy getting a visit from Aunt Flo. But what if your period could prove more help than hindrance? A pair of Harvard-trained researchers are working on a “smart” tampon system that uses “that time of month” as a diagnostic tool for determining everything from fertility to conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and even cancer. By starting up NextGen Jane, scientist-entrepreneurs Ridhi Tariyal and Stephen Gire say they want to help women proactively track their health in a way that is easy, non-invasive, and discreet. “I was trying to develop a way for women to monitor their own fertility at home,” Tariyal told the New York Times earlier this month. “Those kinds of diagnostic tests require a lot of blood. So I was thinking about women and blood. When you put those words together, it becomes obvious. We have an opportunity every single month to collect blood from women, without needles.”
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Menstrual blood contains not only blood but also cells shed by the ovaries and uterus.
Tracking health metrics over a period of time, rather than at a single doctor’s visit, also makes it easier to detect genomic changes that might relate to disease.
“Stephen and I were looking to replace traditional blood tests, and we ended up stumbling across something far better,” Tariyal said.
Tariyal and Gire are currently experimenting with a diagnostic test for endometriosis, which occurs when cells from the lining of the womb grow in other parts of the body. A condition that affects about 1 in 10 American women, it can result in severe pain, internal bleeding, or interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive.
A working tampon test could provide a way to detect the condition in its early stages without the need for minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.
This spring, NextGen Jane is partnering with a leading endometriosis clinic to conduct a clinical trial using donated samples.
They’re looking for volunteers in the Bay Area.
“You can be part of our trial, and it’s as simple as giving us a tampon,” Tariyal told the Harvard Gazette. “Something that you would otherwise throw away can actually push science further.”
[Via Harvard Gazette]