The past year was not a great one for women’s health technology. First there was the Bluetooth-enabled “smart tampon” that raised eyebrows with its clunky and impractical design. Then came security concerns that hackers might be able to access private health data from mobile apps designed to help women track their menstrual cycles and fertility.
We’re hoping 2017 is better. Luckily, more startups are realizing that women and men have different health needs. As a result, more companies than ever are developing new products and services to address childbirth, contraception, and medical conditions specific to women. Here are some of the most interesting women’s health technologies in the pipeline.
Needle-free breast reconstruction
With the rate of double mastectomies on the rise, more women are facing the decision of whether to get breast reconstruction following surgery. For decades, prepping for breast implants has involved needle-based tissue expansion that’s often painful and inconvenient. A needle-free, patient-controlled device that expands tissue with small amounts of carbon dioxide could change that. The device has been tested in a large clinical trial at Columbia University and is awaiting FDA approval.
A diagnostic for endometriosis
San Francisco–based Dot Laboratories, headed by Heather Bowerman, has developed a test for endometriosis, an often painful disease in which tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside it instead. The disorder affects nearly one in 10 women worldwide and is a common cause of infertility. Typically, the only way to definitively diagnosis the disease is with invasive surgery. In the U.S., it takes an average of 11 years for a woman with endometriosis to receive a correct diagnosis. Bowerman wants to change that. Her company has created a blood test for the disease and plans to launch the test in mid-2017.
On-demand birth control delivery
Described as “Uber for birth control,” startup Nurx is helping women who find themselves in the frustrating position of running out of birth control and waiting to get a new prescription. A customer can log on to Nurx’s desktop platform or download the company’s app, input her personal health information, and select the type of contraception she prefers. Then a doctor at Nurx gets in touch, and the company sends the prescription to a pharmacy and arranges a delivery. Patients can get a three-month supply overnight. So far, the company is able to deliver to California, New York, Washington state, and Washington, D.C., and it has plans to expand elsewhere.
At-home Pap smear
While most insured women have access to regular Pap smears to screen for cervical abnormalities, many women may still miss out on screening for a variety of reasons, including the embarrassing and awkward nature of the test. Toronto-based Eve Medical has developed a do-it-yourself kit that allows women to swab themselves and test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Once a woman does the swab, she mails it back to the company for analysis in a lab. The company is currently selling the tests online to Canadian residents.
Spit-based fertility test
Katie Brenner, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, founded BluDiagnostics after having trouble getting pregnant and feeling frustrated with the fertility tests on the market. Her company is building a prototype of a saliva-based device that measures female hormone levels and is designed to be used at home to predict ovulation, diagnose pregnancy, and identify hormonal issues that might be preventing a woman from getting pregnant. If the company can prove in clinical tests that the technology works, the approach could potentially replace hormonal tests that are traditionally performed by drawing blood in a clinic.
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