Throughout history women have been considered ‘aberrations’ from the norm, rather than a crucial and vital part of the population to be included in medical trials and long-term studies. This has resulted in missing data sets and a lack of understanding, diagnosis and treatment of many gynecological conditions, as well as unwanted pharmaceutical side effects for non-gynecological diseases, delays in care, underdiagnoses or undertreatment.
On May 26 & 27 FemTech Summit is bringing together students, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to discuss innovative new solutions, research and strategies in women’s health. The event is organized by a team of students from ETH Zurich led by Oriana Kraft and is free to attend for all.
So what’s on the agenda? Topics will include:
- The link between gender and effective therapy in medicine
- Bridging the missing data gap
- Innovative Screening + Symptom Monitoring
- Personalising contraception + fertility
- The Future of pain + symptom management in gynaecology
With the event just around the corner we got a chance to check in with organizer Oriana Kraft, who also studies medicine at ETH Zurich. In our interview Oriana shares her perspective on the future of women’s health, how innovators, researchers and practitioners can collaborate and – of course – tells us more about what participants can expect from FemTech Summit.
Can you tell us a little more about Femtech Summit and the programming? Who should attend and what do you hope attendees will get out of the event?
Everybody should attend! Whether simply out of the desire to inform themselves on a topic dramatically underreported and discussed – or out of the desire to connect with other attendees and become inspired to deliver the change to women’s health that is so urgently needed.
The ETH Zurich Femtech Summit is meant to take attendees through the journey we recently went through in med school that I think everyone who learns about the subject goes through- from being shocked by the state of women’s health – to understanding where the gaps in our knowledge lie – to what still needs to be done – to being delighted and amazed by the startups in the space and the incredible work being researched in contraception, fertility, pain and symptom management and beyond.
The first day of the Summit kicks off with a talk by Dr. Vera Regitz Zagrosek, founder of the International Institute for Gender Medicine detailing the incredible need for research on gender medicine; whether it is because women have long been excluded from clinical trials, metabolize drugs differently, experience more frequent and potentially deadly side-effects, or the need for them to be treated and screened differently for heart attacks etc.
The Summit will then move on to Innovating Screening Processes – because as we all know disease can be mitigated when caught at the onset and so changing the point of care for diseases like Post Partum Depression, Cervical Cancer, STDs could dramatically change the trajectory and outcomes of those illnesses.
The second panel highlights the need for Gathering Female Specific Data Sets to close the deadly gender data gap – be it via menstrual patterns, remote neonatal monitoring, analysis of saliva or beyond.
The last part of the first day (May 26th) concludes with how and why we need to incorporate gender into medical education (which unbelievably we generally do not) in order to take the first step towards delivering the quality of medical care that fifty per cent, of the population, women and girls, deserve.
The second day of the Summit focuses on the reproductive health of women. The first panel shines a spotlight on the Future of Contraception and Fertility: an area of women’s health that is notoriously opaque and fraught with pitfalls – but Ava, Clue, Oui and Inne, the start-ups speaking at the round-table will explain how the future of contraception and fertility just might become more personalized.
The last panel of the Summit deals with Pain and Symptom Management in gynecology and how this requires reinventing the diagnostic, therapeutic and care process entirely.
The Summit concludes with Rector of ETH Zurich Prof. Sarah Springman delivering a call to arms on innovation and how it is only by pooling together knowledge and people from different backgrounds (medicine, engineering, computer science, sociology and beyond) that the change that is so desperately required for women’s health can be achieved.
You’re currently a medical student at ETH Zurich. What motivated you to organize this conference? And when did you develop an interest in femtech and women’s health innovation?
During our Reproduction Module held in the third year at ETH Zurich, I was shocked and quite frankly disturbed to find out that women of reproductive age were still often excluded from clinical trials out of the fear that menstrual cycles and hormonal fluctuations would act as ‘unnecessary’ and unpredictable variables.
I was equally disturbed to learn that gynaecological conditions affecting large portions of the female population ( Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Hyperandrogenism, Menstruation and even something as simple as the side-effects of the pill) not only had no effective therapy to date, but are poorly understood with not enough research conducted .
Wanting to find out more about how these issues were being tackled, I was thrilled to discover the situation is beginning to change, not only from the research persepctive, but that an entire industry is being forged with startups founded on the premise to better deliver the care to patients who sorely need it. That’s FemTech! But each time I wanted to exchange with friends and colleagues on the matter they knew next to nothing about the topic. So I wanted to find a way to share all the things I was learning and all the incredible projects and maybe even find and work on building the next great innovation in women’s health.
Happily, at ETH Zurich there is an opportunity to do a research project as a closing chapter to the Bachelor’s in medicine. This has been an extraordinary opportunity to liaise with and explore the work of researchers and companies based all over the world.
We sometimes hear that women’s health topics are not adequately addressed in medical school curricula. Is this an impression you share?
Unfortunately, yes. Women’s health topics are touched upon but rarely addressed in depth except in reproduction modules. So, as Caroline Criado Perez writes so brilliantly in Invisible Women, women are treated as default male. And yet, sex differences impact every cell in the human body regardless of whether they are of reproductive nature or not, and this is a fundamental piece of information that impacts diagnosis, treatment and care and should be known to all medical students upfront. This lack of knowledge leaves doctors uneducated about the potential consequences and need for the differences in women’s and men’s therapy.
What role do you think femtech will play in how care is delivered in the future?
I believe FemTech has the ability to revolutionize every aspect of women’s healthcare. Be it in terms of new means of diagnostics (as we gather more data sets and thus have a more complete picture of the way women manifest diseases), therapeutics (whether it is in the forms of drugs previously neglected or understanding that many routine medications impact women differently than men) and continuum of care (for too long women’s health has been frustrating and opaque – I think FemTech has the potential to help both doctors and patients have a better grasp of the situation and thus transform the physician/patient relationship for the better). Clearly personalization will be a great driver of change.
Which trends or research in women’s health are you particularly excited about?
Every woman I know has been confronted with difficulties in contraception and pain and symptom management; whether it is from dramatic and painful side-effects due to lack of information or contradictory opinions on how to best manage the situation. To be frank, the comparative lack of innovation in women’s reproductive as a whole compared to other areas of medicine is particularly disappointing. So clearly there is vast room for improvement that is mission critical for the lives of the next generation of women and men.
FemTech Summit takes place on May 26 and 27. Get your free ticket on femtechnology.org.