After attending a summer internship at NextGen Jane, Omair Khan, a Yale sophomore, became interested in the potential of a new tampon that the company is developing, called the Smart Tampon, to help diagnose diseases like endometriosis by detecting its genetic markers in blood.
NextGen Jane, based in San Francisco, was founded by two Harvard alumni, Ridhi Tariyal and Stephen Gire.
They developed the Smart Tampon as a product that would allow women to use their own menstrual blood to monitor different aspects of their reproductive health, from transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia to hormone levels – including the Anti-Mullerian Hormone, a sign of the ability to produce fertilizable eggs – and to check for endometriosis. The product is now in a first clinical testing phase, and the company hopes to submit its Smart Tampon for approval with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“About 10% of women get diagnosed with endometriosis,” Khan, a premed student, said in an article by Susan Gonzalez published in Yale News. “Unfortunately, the only way to diagnose this disease is through exploratory surgery. In addition to the cost of surgery, the problem is that a woman can go 5 to 10 years with endometriosis without being diagnosed. It’s a progressive disease, but there may be no symptoms, in some cases, for nearly a decade. At the point that a woman has significant abdominal distress, the only option is a radical hysterectomy. Some of these women are in their 20s.”
Khan has also helped the company develop cost-effective diagnostic methods for endometriosis and cervical cancer, among other diseases, and researched into the potentials of new genomic markers for these diseases as well.
“He was driving the experiments to understand the differences in protein signals found in a tampon versus venous blood,” said Tariyal. “He was also helping to elucidate the changing composition in bacteria during varying time points in a woman’s cycle. Omair’s scientific curiosity and bench skill-set helped NextGen Jane develop a deep understanding of women’s health from a completely novel perspective.”
Khan became so involved in the development of Smart Tampon that he as now requested to remain involved with the company during his academic year. He is now helping NextGen Jane’s team write-up research results of a study on the vaginal microbiome, a project he started himself. A research paper is expected to be published later this fall. He hopes to be able to stay involved during future clinical trials of the Smart Tampon.