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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.”

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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.

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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.”

+ NextGen Jane

[Via Harvard Gazette]