Checking up on our reproductive health should be something that we do regularly and for most of us, it’s as easy as booking an appointment at the doctor’s office.
Unfortunately, for many people who live in less privileged parts of the world and can’t access quality healthcare, infections can go undiagnosed and lead to more serious health issues later on.
Something as common and as easily treated as a yeast infection (vulvovaginal candidiasis) can be left to worsen because those who are suffering from it may not know what it is or how to deal with it. Additionally, there could be societal taboos and stigmas against having infections, which may prevent women from seeking the medical help that they need.
To address this, researchers from the Manipal Institute of Technology have developed a color-changing menstrual pad that will turn bright pink if it detects a yeast infection. The team of researchers, led by Dr. Naresh Kumar Mani, an associate professor in biotechnology, focused on “engineering frugal technology, which can be put into the hands of people who need it the most.”
To make the yeast-infection detecting menstrual pad, the team first made standard sanitary napkins. Then, they bought common multifilament cotton threads and used a heptane solution to revert them to untreated material. The heptane solution stripped away the binders and waxes that are added to the cotton threads during manufacturing, thereby increasing the wicking properties of the threads.
The next step was to coat the threads in L-proline β-naphthylamide (PRO), a molecule that binds to an enzyme made by the naturally occurring fungus present in a yeast infection. Lastly, they embedded the treated fibers into the inner layers of the sanitary napkins. In total, the cost to manufacture each product is a mere 22 to 28 cents, making them quite inexpensive.
While conventional yeast infection test results at a clinic generally take between 24 to 72 hours, these pads change color within ten short minutes of being exposed to the fungus. This could be life-changing for women who have limited resources to adequate medical care. Women can discreetly self-diagnose yeast infections before seeking medical treatment. Plus, the threads could be adapted to detect more pathogens and bacteria, such as the ones that cause urinary tract infections.
The team is still refining the technology and manufacturing process but hopes that their infection-detecting menstrual products will be commercially available in under three years.