Dr. Sara Naseri at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.
SARA NASERI: Hello, MAKERS community. Good afternoon. I am so excited to be here with you all to talk about making the future.
As a doctor and a scientist, I am especially interested in making the future of women's health. And people, we are really behind. It is no secret that women's health has been overlooked and stigmatized from the lack of representation and participation in medical research, to lack of funding and awareness. And this has led to a massive gender data gap. But what is the gender data gap, and why is it a problem?
The gender data gap means that the information we use to guide clinical diagnosis and treatment are biased and doesn't accurately and equally represent female biology. So let me give you an example. Thank you. Let me give you an example.
70% of chronic pain patients are female. Now, guess how many women are represented in chronic pain research. Is it 50%? 40%? It's 20%. Only 20%.
Even when we study conditions that overwhelmingly impact women, we are studying and solving them for the male biology. And because, spoiler alert, female and male biologies are different, this does cause severe consequences. For instance, the heart attack symptoms that we were taught to look out for in medical school, such as the classic pain down the arm symptom, are more often experienced by men having heart attacks.
Women, on the other hand, can experience symptoms like indigestion or jaw pain when having a heart attack. And that discrepancy is why heart disease and heart attacks are more often missed in women, which increases mortality for women. This is unacceptable.
SARA NASERI: That's right. When we don't include women in clinical trials, the conclusions that we make may not be accurate for women, and certainly will not be representative of female biology. The disparity isn't always happening in clinical studies. Studies much earlier in the process also focus disproportionately on men and male biology.
Two of the most important stages of early drug development, for instance, cell and animal trials, also use male cells and male rodents more often. But why? Because they think female biology is messy.
Our pesky hormones and all the other things that make us uniquely women make research too hard. But female biology isn't messy. It's complex. And that complexity is exactly why women must be included and prioritized in medical research. Enough is enough.
Thank you. And more recent example is the 2020 COVID-19 vaccine trials that didn't include information about how the vaccine may impact women's reproductive organs. And only after rolling out the vaccine did we learn that it actually does affect women's periods. And I'm not placing blame on the heroic vaccine researchers who were literally racing to save the world. It's because women's health hasn't been included since the beginning of medical research that we don't have the muscle memory yet to ask the right questions about women's health.
I sometimes wonder, what if a man was bleeding every month? What if a man had his period? We would have man-pons pants by man. Man-pax. Yeah, the world may have looked different. And more importantly, we may have known more about our health and our periods.
But why care about menstrual blood, this thing that half of the world throws away every month? Well, 70% of medical decisions are based on blood testing and lab work that requires invasive procedures, medical professionals. It's expensive and time consuming. And at the same time, we have 1.8 billion women who bleed naturally every month. Why has nobody made that useful?
So, back in 2014, I was still a medical student. This thought popped into my head. What if menstrual blood could be a way for us, for women, to gain insights about their health regularly and noninvasively? And as you can imagine, at the time, little to no information was published on the diagnostic utility of menstrual blood. So I left Denmark to come to the US to do research at a top university hospital, only to learn that the clinical research lab refused to run testing on the period samples because they claimed we didn't know if menstrual blood was blood.
Which is why I'm extremely excited to announce that we've done the research. And we can confirm menstrual blood is-- wait for it-- blood. And that it contains additional information about our reproductive organs and some critical women-specific conditions that we have no other way to diagnose today.
So I co-founded a company. We call it Qvin. It means "woman" in Danish. And we found a scientific way for women to collect menstrual blood to get access to non-invasive, passively collected, regular health insights. We call it the Q-Pad. And we believe this novel approach in helping women prevent disease and getting access to medical research could be a global game changer. Let's start with cervical cancer.
The Q-Pad. We recently published our data with Stanford Hospital University on how the Q-Pad could become a way for women to screen for cervical cancer globally, a cancer that still today kills more than half a million women worldwide and is entirely-- entirely-- preventable if we screen for it and detect it early. We've also validated a number of other critical biomarkers, such as hemoglobin A1C, which is an important biomarker in monitoring and managing diabetes, thyroid-stimulating hormone, indicating thyroid health, and fertility hormones, like FSH, LH, and AMH.
But hold on. The Q-Pad is not on the market yet. We're still making the future. But you can sign up on our waitlist, and you might find a surprise in your conference bags.
So here is what we're going to do in the meantime. We are going to continue to publish our data. We've built a CLIA-certified lab. We're undergoing the FDA approval process. We're here to do the work in women's health that no one did because they thought it was messy. We're here to close the gender data gap, and we're going to do it right.
Periods are the most overlooked opportunity in women's health. This thing that, in many cultures, is still a stigma and a considerable source for shame may just be one of the biggest opportunities we have. But let's talk about you.
What I want to leave you with and what I want to urge you to do is to participate in medical research. Whether you participate in research with us or other research initiatives, choose to be represented in the data. Participate. It's important.
Let's clean up this mess. Let's close the gender data gap. Let's build the future of women's health, period. Thank you.