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Test shows promise in detecting ‘hard-to-find’ cervical cancers

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, with the burden significantly higher in lower- and middle-income countries

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Scientists at the Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (MECC) have developed a test for detecting a “hard-to-find” type of cervical cancer.

The novel test appears sensitive for detecting cervical adenocarcinoma [ADC], which accounts for up to 25 per cent of cervical cancer cases, as well as some lesions, called adenocarcinoma in situ [AIS], that often develop into ADCs.

Because ADCs are often missed by current screening methods, they have higher mortality rates than the more common cervical squamous cell cancer. Researchers at MECC are hoping to catch the disease early, before it develops into cancer.

The widespread use of the smear test, in which a doctor examines tissue samples for abnormal cells, has significantly reduced the incidence of cervical squamous cell cancer over the past six decades. However, the incidence of ADC has not decreased.

In recent years, testing for human papillomaviruses (HPVs), responsible for 99.7 per cent of cervical cancer cases, joined the smear test as a standard screening tool for cervical cancer.

Although there are more than 100 types of HPV, three types, HPV 16, 18, and 45, account for more than 70 per cent of all cervical cancer cases and more than 90 per cent of ADC cases.

The current HPV tests cover all three types and can alert infected women that they face a high risk for developing cervical cancer.

But while vaccines for preventing cervical cancer are safe and effective, researchers say several generations of women are above the age for receiving the vaccine.

The MECC-developed HPV test assessed HPV 16, 18, and 45 in a novel way by specifically looking at methylation levels. Methylation is a chemical modification of DNA and other molecules that may be retained as cells divide to make more cells.

“The advent of next-generation genetic testing has opened up opportunities for us to more accurately detect oncogenic HPV strains and patterns in the genomes that correspond with the development of AIS and ADC,” said Robert D. Burk, professor of pediatrics, of microbiology and immunology, of epidemiology and population health, and of obstetrics and gynaecology and women’s health at Einstein and MECC member, who co-led the study.

“Our findings, if confirmed by clinical trials, suggest that women with a high methylation score may benefit from colposcopy and specialised tissue evaluation, beyond just a Pap test, which could lead to early diagnosis and treatment for ADC or the removal of AIS lesions before they develop into ADC.”

He added: “Given that our test uses equipment that could be simplified, it has the potential to expand testing in lower-resourced countries.”

Cervical cancer remains the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, with the burden significantly higher in lower- and middle-income countries, including those in Sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV-HPV co-infections are common.

There are also significant disparities within the United States. For example, in New York City, rates of cervical cancer in the Bronx, which is home to the poorest urban congressional district in the country, are 50 per cent higher than in Manhattan.

More frequent and effective screening could help address this health disparity, scientists believe.

“Ideally, the new HPV methylation test would only need to be done once every three to five years,” explained Howard Strickler, co-senior and corresponding author of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) and a member of MECC.

“We are hopeful that this test will be able to increase cervical cancer screening equity in the US.”

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Cleveland Clinic launches new women’s health and research center

The programme aims to address women’s unique health needs during midlife and beyond

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From left: Cleveland Clinic CEO and president Dr Tom Mihaljevic, Maria Shriver and Dr Beri Ridgeway / Source: clevelandclinic.org

Cleveland Clinic has launched its new Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center, an initiative dedicated to helping women during midlife.

The center, which will focus on access, connectivity, education and research and innovation, aims to empower women to navigate their health journey with confidence and clarity.

Maria Shriver, founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention and Research Center at Cleveland Clinic, will serve as chief visionary and strategic advisor.

“I’ve always believed our nation needed a first-class comprehensive women’s health center, and now we have one,” said Shriver.

“Over the past several years, I’ve been honoured to work alongside so many talented and passionate doctors at Cleveland Clinic to bring this vision to life. This is a place for women at every stage of life where they will feel seen, will get the research they need, and the care they deserve, from their brains to their bones.

“I am thrilled that today the WAM Prevention and Research Center expands, as it deserves to.”

Dr Tom Mihaljevic, Cleveland Clinic CEO and president, said: “Maria’s unwavering commitment to raising awareness and driving meaningful change aligns perfectly with the mission of our new center.

“Her passion for advancing the quality of care for women is remarkable and will help us transform how we deliver care for women today and into the future.”

The population of women in midlife and in need of healthcare continues to grow. According to US Census Bureau 2020 data, more than 63 million women in the US are 50 years of age or older, and approximately 6,000 women enter menopause each day.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 80 per cent of women aged 55 and older have at least one chronic condition, such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, which strengthens the need for more comprehensive medical care for women in this stage of life.

The new Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center will bring together specialty care in various areas, including behavioural health, breast health, cardiovascular care, center for infant and maternal health, endocrinology, menopause, osteoporosis and metabolic bone density, wellness and disease prevention.

Through initiatives focused on streamlining appointment processes, enhancing outreach programmes and prioritising health equity, the center will seek to ensure that all women can readily access the care they need.

“Midlife is an important milestone and a time to empower women to address health issues and focus on future health,” said Dr Beri Ridgeway, chief of staff at Cleveland Clinic.

“Taking a holistic approach, including menopausal and hormonal health, reproductive health, mental health, chronic conditions and preventive care, is critical to optimise health outcomes.

“Our priority is to help women in this stage of life make educated decisions about their health and have access to the services they need to thrive, while also feeling seen, heard and supported.”

The center, Ridgeway said, will offer support groups and resources to help address health disparities, reach diverse communities and bridge gaps in health literacy.

The institution’s ultimate mission, she explained, is to advance research and innovation specific to women during midlife.

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Firm secures US$1.9m grant to support women entrepreneurs in Africa

eha Impact Ventures aims to support women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises

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Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at eHA Impact Ventures / Source: evelyncastle.com

The impact investing enterprise eHA Impact Ventures (EIV) has been awarded a US$1.9m grant from the non-profit organisation eHealth Africa (eHA) to support women entrepreneurs in Africa.

eHA’s board of directors approved the donation as part of its effort to “strengthen” healthcare delivery systems and support vulnerable populations.

The grant, the organisation said, will be deployed to “upscale” women-funded companies to improve the health and wealth of African women, their families and their communities.

The donation is hoped to address the US$42bn funding gap for women entrepreneurs in Africa and help female founders have better access to funding opportunities.

In addition, the funds are expected to support health interventions like the pre-screening of cervical cancer and improve delivery of blood and blood products to healthcare facilities.

“The grant will be instrumental in boosting the economic capacity of women across Africa by supporting high-impact women-owned businesses,” said Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at EIV, who founded the firm in 2021.

“Furthermore, it will [help us] upscale funding, mentorship and training programmes to help women create thriving businesses that drive economic growth in their communities.”

My Le, board executive at eHealth Africa, said: “These donations could not have come at a better time as  women continue to struggle to meet up with both health and economic demands. Thus we are optimistic that the funds will go a mile in bridging fiscal gaps for women and other vulnerable groups to lead healthier lives.

“Supporting women will go a long way in not just improving their societal impact but also contribute immensely to sustainable development especially in the African region.”

Recognising women’s “vital” role in building strong health systems, Atef Fawaz, CEO of eHealth Africa, added: “We acknowledge the profound impact women have in strengthening healthcare systems, aligning with our vision at eHealth Africa.”

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Menstrual product wins innovation award in Switzerland

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser

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Penelope Finnie, chief executive officer at Egal

Pads on a Roll, a menstrual product that can be dispensed in public stalls similar to a toilet paper roll, has won a prestigious award at the Women’s Health Innovation Summit Europe in Basel. 

Each year the Women’s Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) helps promising start-ups raise their brand awareness and pitch their solutions in front of investors and industry leaders.

Egal, the company behind Pads on a Roll, has been honoured with this year’s Women’s Health Innovation award after the WHIS selection committee recognised the start-up as an innovative company poised to disrupt the European women’s health landscape.

“Egal Pads is so honoured to have been chosen for the Women’s Health Innovation award,” Penelope Finnie, Egal chief executive officer, told Femtech World.

“The other nine finalists were amazing companies run by wonderful people. The whole conference was a testament to the importance of the femtech movement.

“For us, it was particularly exciting as the EU is the next market we are focusing on. We hope that having period products available in stalls just like toilet paper is, will become the norm as it is necessary for equality.

“We also hope that by winning, it brings attention to this easily solved but long ignored issue,” Finnie added.

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser.

Egal aims to sell Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools

Each roll contains 40 pads and can be placed directly in stalls, unlike the typical tampon dispensers that often require money to access the products and are located outside the stall.

The pads are less expensive to maintain than products in vending machines because they are easier to refill, and require less space and packaging.

Research shows that 20 percent of girls in the US and UK have missed school due to lack of access to period products, with more than 90 per cent of menstruators having experienced jammed, broken or empty dispensers in public toilets.

Egal aims to solve this issue by selling Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools.

The Boston-based company has done pilots at various universities across the US and is hoping to develop a flushable version of the product in the future.

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