Now, thanks a pair of scientist-entrepreneurs, the humble tampon could also also provide women with valuable, potentially life-changing information about their reproductive health.
It all began in 2014, when Harvard engineer Ridhi Tariyal was brainstorming ways for women to keep track of their fertility in the comfort of their own homes. She was faced with two key challenges: this diagnostic process needed to be simple, and would require the collection of a lot of blood.
As Tariyal quickly realised, that’s precisely where the solution lay.
“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,” she tells the New York Times.
“There’s lots of information in [menstrual blood] but right now, it’s all going in the trash.”
Watch: Dr Ginni Mansberg explains why you can’t ‘lose’ a tampon. (Post continues after video.)
This breakthrough led Tariyal, along with her business partner Stephen Gire, to found NextGen Jane — a “smart tampon system” in which menstrual blood is collected and used as medical samples.
According to the Harvard Gazette, the system is designed to detect warning signals of health conditions, reproductive disorders or treatable infections that can damage female fertility if left untreated.
Unfortunately, many women live with PCOS, endometriosis and other conditions without realising it, and by the time they’re diagnosed the impact on fertility is already present.
At first, Tariyal and Gire toyed with the idea of creating ‘smart tampons’ embedded with diagnostic chips that would transmit information to the wearer. In other words, your tampon would communicate with you directly.