The year 2017 is ushering in a new wave of life-changing tech innovations. One area that looks particularly promising is women’s health. While last year introduced the Bluetooth-enabled “smart tampon” with its impractical design and a plethora of security concerns, this year appears to offer much more promising technologies for women.
From innovations in needleless breast reconstruction and blood tests for endometriosis to free birth control delivery and at-home fertility tests, the landscape of women’s health is changing – for the better.
The New Trend in Breast Reconstruction – Say Goodbye to Saline and Needles
The number of women facing double mastectomies is increasing, and so is the number of breast cancer patients who are deciding whether to undergo post-mastectomy breast reconstruction. For the last few decades, a woman who decided on breast reconstruction had to endure saline injections to expand the tissue in her chest and make room for breast implants. Not only is the process painful, but it’s also inconvenient. In fact, the process of receiving saline injections can require up to two months of weekly doctor appointments.
However, patients seeking breast reconstruction may be able to put this pain and inconvenience behind them with a needleless device called AeroForm. Instead of saline injections, the wireless tissue expander system delivers small amounts of carbon dioxide through an internal valve to expand the chest wall tissue. Patients can use the device at home with a remote. Best of all, there’s no need for needles or multiple visits to the doctor’s office.
Columbia University has been leading a clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of AeroForm. During a Phase 2 trial, the 150 women who used the device completed tissue expansion an average of 25 days faster than women who opted for traditional saline injections. As a result, the women who used AeroForm were able to undergo breast reconstruction surgery one month earlier than women in the saline group. Additionally, 98 percent of patients reported that the device was easy to use.
Easy and effective seems like a winning combination, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seemed to agree. In December, the FDA approved AeroForm for breast reconstruction – and to treat underdeveloped breasts and soft tissue deformities. A victory for the creators of the device and for women seeking breast reconstruction.
A Blood Test for Endometriosis – No More Invasive Tests
Endometriosis is a disease that impacts approximately one in 10 women around the world. The condition, which occurs when the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, is often painful and is a common cause of infertility. Invasive surgery was once the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis.
Heather Bowerman, CEO of Dot Laboratories, wanted to change this reality for women with endometriosis. To accomplish this goal, the lab has developed a diagnostic blood test to determine whether a woman has endometriosis. This simple test should be ready for launch in mid-2017, and it could eliminate the need for invasive and painful diagnostic testing.
Dot Laboratories is also developing an inexpensive and easy way to test female hormones and track them online. To take advantage of the service, a woman would provide a saliva sample at specific times during the month and she would mail the samples to the lab. The lab would then process the samples and provide data about the woman’s hormone levels. Although the process is still undergoing beta testing, Bowerman plans to release this tool in 2017. It looks like this year will be a big one for Dot Laboratories.
An At-Home Fertility Test – A Substitute for Fertility Blood Tests
About one out of eight couples have trouble getting pregnant, and approximately 12% of women have received infertility services during their lifetime. Katie Brenner, a postdoctoral fellow of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was one of these women. After she found herself struggling to conceive, she realized that existing fertility tests were lacking and she created bluDiagnostics.
bluDiagnostics is developing an at-home, saliva-based test known as Fertility Finder. The test measures the presence of two female hormones – estradiol and progesterone. Fertility Finder will serve as an ovulation kit and a pregnancy test, while also identifying hormonal problems that could be responsible for a woman’s fertility issues. The results of the test will be sent to the patient’s cell phone via the company’s mobile app and to her physician.
The next step is to prove the efficacy of the test in clinical trials. If successful, Fertility Finder could replace traditional blood tests performed in a medical clinic – undoubtedly, a welcome development for patients with a fear of needles.
A Free Birth Control Delivery Service – Uber Meets the Pill
Uber has revolutionized the way people travel – and the idea behind the service is about to change the way women receive birth control. A startup called Nurx is being called “Uber for birth control.” The service is designed to make contraceptives more accessible to women. Rather than dealing with her doctor’s office and pharmacy, a woman can use the Nurx desktop platform or app to get on-demand birth control.
A woman can visit the Nurx platform and enter her personal health information, including her preferred form of birth control. Then, Nurx handles the rest. The service contacts the woman’s doctor, sends the prescription to a local pharmacy, and even arranges for free delivery. Women can get as much as a three-month supply of contraceptives overnight.
Right now, the company is serving California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C. Nurx also plans to expand to other areas of the United States. The company’s goal is to improve access to contraceptives, giving every woman “convenient access to birth control where and when she needs it.”
The world of women’s health will see a surge of technological innovations in 2017. Women – and the world as a whole – will only benefit from increased attention to the health needs impacting half of the planet.
-By Shannon Flynn