Endometriosis is a condition affecting women of any age, where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
It’s a long-term condition which is often accompanied by a number of debilitating symptoms, including tummy, back or pelvic pain, pain during or after sex, and nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in urine during menstruation.
It can also cause fertility issues, with sufferers having difficulty getting pregnant.
There is no cure for endometriosis as yet, although there are treatments that can help.
And, with the rise in femtech, there are a number of technological advances that can help manage the condition and its symptoms. Femtech World looks at the latest innovations…
Like many other women’s health conditions, endometriosis is under-researched, under-served and under-funded.
This has the knock-on effect of making it little understood, by patients and clinicians alike, meaning diagnosis is often missed; in fact, according to Endometriosis UK, it takes an average of 7.5 years to get diagnosed.
The delay in diagnosis, along with the current care experience, was the catalyst behind Syrona Health’s SORA app.
Syrona is a femtech firm co-founded by Chantelle Bell and Anya Roy, who met at the University of Cambridge, to support women’s health, with a particular focus on gynaecological issues.
Last year, the firm launched the SORA app to allow women to track their endometriosis and other health symptoms such as mood, exercise and sleep, as well as giving them access to a patient community, and doctor-approved insights.
To increase engagement and retention, the app also features an element of gamification. Users can collect points for tracking their symptoms, which can be exchanged for premium products and services. Hormone test kits, while not endometriosis-specific, can also help answer fertility-related questions, which are often a major concern for women living with endometriosis.
Endodiag is a French startup which is working on a new endometriosis diagnostic solution called EndoSearch.
The non-invasive diagnostic test can assess the presence of endometriosis without surgery, which may lead to a quicker, easier diagnosis. The company aims to diagnose better, provide more personalised assistance, and more efficient treatment options and fertility strategies.
Endometriosis, its causes and its triggers are little understood, despite affecting as many as one in 10 women.
However, Philippa Saunders and Andrew Horne, founders and co-directors of the EXPPECT Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis at the university, believe that using ‘smart’ technologies could create a better understanding of the condition.
In a new study, the team will consider the benefits of combining a wearable, clinical-grade biosensor with a mobile phone app where patients can provide information about their symptoms, helping researchers to gather objective and detailed data to monitor and assess patients’ physical activity, sleep and other everyday behaviours.
Such information could then be used to develop further treatments and options for endometriosis sufferers.
One of the main symptoms of endometriosis is pain, either in the back, tummy or pelvis, which may be worse during menstruation.
Currently, the only accepted method of relieving the pain is through traditional over-the-counter painkillers, but many women, understandably, are reluctant to take these too regularly.
Ovira was created to offer a new solution to endometriosis and also period pain, using Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) technology.
The tech works by overloading the user’s nervous system in order to reduce its ability to transmit pain signals to the brain.
The firm has created a small, wearable and reusable TENS device called Noha; small pads that are attached to the wearer’s abdomen or back and transmit electrical signals to block the pain.
It is cost-efficient and drug-free, with no known side effects, making it a realistic option for women who don’t want to rely on OTC drugs.
While menstrual trackers cannot help with the pain of endometriosis, they can help women feel more in control of their cycles, meaning they can plan around their symptoms, as well as arming them with enough information for a diagnosis.
The most well-known of these is probably Clue, which allows users to track the following symptoms, which may be of use for managing the condition:
- Bleeding patterns (including spotting)
- Menstrual heaviness
- Bowel habits
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Contraception use
All of the above can help women build up a fuller picture of their symptoms, when they happen and how to manage them. It can also be useful evidence ahead of a diagnosis, to speed up the process.
Endometriosis is often seen as a silent condition, with little research and information available, and many women ascribing symptoms to ‘just’ their normal menstrual cycle.
However, the world of femtech, which is led largely by innovative female entrepreneurs, is looking to chance that, giving endo sufferers a voice.
Lawyers warn of discrimination risks around lack of menstrual health support in the workplace
Employers should consider proactively supporting women in managing menstruation at work, lawyers have argued
Employers should consider the potential discrimination risks around menstrual health in the workplace, lawyers have warned, as research shows that most women in the UK feel unsupported.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the majority of women in the UK do not feel a strong sense of support in their organisation in relation to their menstrual cycle.
Figures show women are more likely to feel supported by colleagues than by their employer or manager, with only one in 10 reporting that their organisation provides support for menstruation and menstrual health.
Annisa Khan, employment lawyer at Farrer & Co who has previously raised the alarm over the lack of practical measures to support women with their periods, told Femtech World that employers should be mindful of the legal risks related to managing menstruation.
“Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees based on sex, age, or disability,” she said.
“Employers should therefore consider the potential discrimination risks in relation to managing mensuration in the workplace and implement measures to reduce these risks.”
A lack of workplace period policies has been estimated to cost businesses over £6bn per year, as menstrual symptoms cause women to miss an average of 8.4 days per year due to lower productivity.
Khan said organisations should consider proactively supporting employees in managing menstruation at work by reviewing existing policies, including sickness absence and health and wellbeing policies, to ensure they effectively address menstrual-related concerns.
“Creating an open and supportive environment is crucial for employees to feel comfortable discussing periods at work,” she explained.
“This involves raising awareness among all staff, including senior-level managers and male colleagues, to foster an understanding of how colleagues may be affected by menstruation, the relevant policies and how to have open and empathetic conversations.
“Implementing practical measures is also essential to create a supportive environment. Practical steps can include having accessible bathroom facilities with sanitary bins, providing free period products to employees, offering additional breaks and providing a quiet space for rest.”
In line with CIPD’s findings, Khan said workplaces should also consider implementing more flexible working practices and giving women more breaks when needed.
“Employers should be open to employees adjusting their work pattern on the days they are experiencing menstruation symptoms by, for example, offering employees the opportunity to work from home.
“Additionally, they should consider the needs of employees with disabilities or those with medical conditions, and how they may be affected by managing mensuration at work.”
Heidi Watson, employment partner at Clyde & Co, said employers should ensure they avoid breaching discrimination laws when approaching issues like menstrual health.
“As awareness of menstrual issues such as endometriosis grows and as employees are more willing to discuss their symptoms at work, employers will need to consider whether employees are disabled under the legal definition and therefore entitled to protection from less favourable treatment and subject to the duty of the employer to make reasonable adjustments for them,” she told Femtech World.
“Employees may also be able to establish sex or age discrimination claims. We can expect more claims to come before the Employment Tribunal in the not too distant future, in a similar way as we have seen with cases involving menopause in recent years.
“Adopting a flexible approach to managing those with menstrual symptoms which are impacting their work, and creating an open and supportive culture around the issue, will help to reduce the risk of such claims being brought,” she added.
OB/GYN-founded vitamin company pledges US$10m to improve women’s health research
Perelel aims to close the divide on women’s reproductive health research and improve access to nutritional support
The US OB/GYN-founded vitamin company Perelel has pledged US$10m to Magee-Womens Research Institute and Good+ Foundation to fund women’s health research and address gaps in maternal healthcare.
The vitamin company said the US$10m would be distributed as both in-kind product donations and funding grants through 2027 focused on advancing women’s reproductive health.
Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest US research foundation focused exclusively on women’s health, reproductive biology and infant research and care.
Good+Foundation is a national nonprofit working to dismantle multi-generational poverty by pairing tangible goods with innovative services for under-resourced individuals.
“As the only female OB/GYN-founded women’s vitamin company, Perelel is committed to ensuring that all women have access to medically backed care,” said Victoria Thain Gioia, co-founder and co-CEO of Perelel.
“This is why we are devoted to furthering women’s research in partnership with Magee-Womens Research Institute and creating more equity in the way underserved communities receive critical prenatal micronutrients that would otherwise be inaccessible thanks to Good+Foundation.”
Research shows that medical studies have historically excluded female participants and data have been collected from males and generalised to females.
The exclusion of women of “childbearing potential” from clinical research studies has meant that women’s diseases are often missed, misdiagnosed or remain a total mystery.
Alex Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO and of Perelel, said: “We recognise how wildly complex women’s bodies are — bodies that have historically been oversimplified, objectified and shamefully under-researched in medicine.
“Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as ’12 essential nutrients.’ In founding Perelel, we hope to shine a light on how dynamic our bodies are by supporting them with targeted solutions made by the doctors and experts who know best.
“Core to what we stand for is the need to keep fighting for our fundamental rights and help close the women’s health research gap and improve body literacy.”
Perelel’s pledge comes at a time of intensified focus on women’s health as efforts start to reach new levels, including the White House, after President Joe Biden announced the first-ever initiative on Women’s Health Research in 2023.
“It is critical that there is more in-depth medical research done to support women at every hormonal life stage,” said Michael Annichine, CEO at Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation.
“Perelel has committed to a cash donation to further advance research into women’s reproductive health and to ensure that this research is made more accessible to doctors everywhere.”
New treatment could ‘disrupt’ growth of breast cancer tumours
A new type of immunotherapy could lead to pioneering treatment for breast cancer
A breakthrough injection could “disrupt” the growth of breast cancer tumours, paving the way for a pioneering new treatment.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with one woman diagnosed every 10 minutes. Around 55,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and 11,500 die from the disease each year.
Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research have found that a new type of immunotherapy that targets non-cancer cells could help prevent the growth and spread of breast cancer tumours.
The discovery, published in The Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, has found that an immunotherapy approach targeting a protein, called endosialin, disrupts the tumour’s blood supply and, as a result, can hinder its growth and spread.
Unlike most cancer treatments, this innovative treatment does not target cancer cells directly but attacks the cells that support the disease instead.
Researchers used a type of immunotherapy called CAR-T therapy, which involves removing a patient’s healthy immune cells and genetically modifying them to attack specific targets.
CAR-T therapies are already being used to treat some blood cancers, and scientists are trying to find ways to make them effective for other types of cancer, including breast cancer.
However, CAR-T cell therapy does not always work on tumours because their environment suppresses the immune response, and it can also be challenging to find specific features on the breast cancer cells to target.
To work around these challenges, the team directed the CAR-T cells to cells surrounding the tumour’s blood supply that make the endosialin protein, rather than actual cancer cells. In experiments in mice, scientists found that targeting endosialin successfully reduced the breast cancer’s growth and spread.
The team, based at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), also tested the treatment on lung cancer tumours in mice and saw similarly successful results, suggesting patients with other types of cancer could benefit from this new treatment too.
In addition, researchers found that the CAR-T therapy did not affect cells without endosialin, indicating this could work as a cancer-specific treatment with potentially fewer side effects for patients.
“This is the very first study that demonstrates the effectiveness of using endosialin-directed CAR-T cells to reduce breast cancer tumour growth and spread,” said Dr Frances Turrell, study co-leader and postdoctoral training fellow in the division of breast cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research.
“Immunotherapy has had limited success in treating breast cancer but by targeting the cells that support the tumour and help it to survive, rather than the cancer cells directly, we’ve found a promising way to overcome the challenges posed by the tumour environment and develop a more effective and targeted treatment for breast cancer.
“We could not have done this project without funding to the Molecular Cell Biology group from Breast Cancer Now and we hope that further research will help translate these findings into targeted therapies for breast cancer patients.”
Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This exciting research could lead to much-needed targeted treatments for people with breast cancer, and with one person dying from breast cancer every 45 minutes in the UK, new treatments like these are urgently needed.
“Now we know that the treatment works in principle in mice, Breast Cancer Now researchers can continue to develop this immunotherapy to make it suitable for people, as well as to understand the full effect it could have and who it may benefit the most.”
- Lawyers warn of discrimination risks around lack of menstrual health support in the workplace
- OB/GYN-founded vitamin company pledges US$10m to improve women’s health research
- New treatment could ‘disrupt’ growth of breast cancer tumours
- The slippery slope of presumed consent in post-humous reproductive health cases
- Women’s health content censored and blocked on social media
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