Anna Gragert
April 02, 2016 7:42 am
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When we imagine what the future will be like, we often think big. We picture cars that drive themselves, Back to the Future-esque clothes, and devices that do everything and anything for us. Rarely do we ever think of futuristic tampons.

Even so, Harvard engineer Ridhi Tariyal is now opening our minds to all the possibilities of the future. Along with her business partner Stephen Gire, she’s working on a project that may allow women to use their menstrual blood as a medical sample.

“I was trying to develop a way for women to monitor their own fertility at home and those kinds of diagnostic tests require a lot of blood,” Tariyal told The New York Times. “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’s interesting to think about the fact that, as of right now, we’re throwing important health data in the trash. Yet, why hasn’t this menstrual concept been developed sooner? Why has no one else considered the future of tampons?

The answer: It all has to do with gender.

NYT reporter Pagan Kennedy reports that, since 1976, out of every four patents that involve tampons, three are attributed to men. This means that, for the most part, menstrual products have not been designed by someone who actually understands what it’s like to menstruate. Tariyal found that the same applied to investors. The engineer revealed“Someone told us that the product would only help women, and women are only half the population — so what was the point?” Several investors even wanted Tariyal to change her idea so that it would benefit men in some way.

Despite these setbacks, Tariyal and Gire continued to experiment with their product. Initially, they considered embedding diagnostic chips into tampons so users could learn about their health in real-time. However, Tariyal didn’t feel comfortable with this and, from then on, knew that all medical testing would need to occur outside the human body.

The inventors then worked on a device that would allow women to test their menstrual blood, from the comfort of their own homes, for infections and STDs. However, investors were not won over by this tampon-related idea. Gire explained, “When you say that you’re going to build a company around menstrual blood, people think you’re joking.”

Tariyal and Gire continued to workshop their idea with the hope that investors would soon see the value of their product. That’s when they realized that menstruation involves more than just blood – it incorporates the shedding of uterine cells that can potentially help us diagnose cancer and reproductive diseases.

Gene-sequencing equipment company Illumina was very interested in this idea, especially since it can help detect endometriosis (a condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside the uterus, causing pain). Essentially, women will be able to hand over their tampons, have them tested, and can later see if there are any health issues they should be concerned about.

Now, Tariyal and Gire have a startup called NextGen Jane, which has been funded by lead researchers and philanthropists who believe in the potential of this creation. 

Not only is this invention indicative of the future of tampons – it also represents a future where gender equality allows ideas like this one to remain possible.

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