File this under gross and kind of brilliant: Chelsea Briganti, a senior at Parsons The New School for Design has produced a device that collects menstrual blood for adult stem cells. Made of medical-grade silicone and resembling an ultra-thick thick condom, Mademoicell works like a tampon. Pop it in, fill it up, pull it out, store in the fridge alongside last night's leftovers, ship to the lab, and voila, you have the makings of new heart tissue!
It's a great idea, once you get past the squirm factor. Stem cell medicine is quickly approaching clinical use, and one day we might really live with products like these. Menstrual stem cells in particular harness the benefits of stem cells, but without creating a wake of moral quandaries. "The stem cells found in menstrual blood possess embyronic stem cell markers, which means that they can differentiate between nine different types of cells," the designer Briganti says. "These are more potent than bone marrow." Based on pre-clinical trials, they're shaping up to be one of the most promising, renewable, non-invasive sources of stem cells.
Still, while Mademoicell is available for $75 for three, it's obviously a conceptual product meant to highlight an issue (you can't take a packet of stem cells to your doctor yet). And anyway, it's hard to picture Mademoicell gaining much traction in a culture that's deadset on pretending periods are all beaches and balloons. A product like this--one that not only acknowledges that women get a period but actually does something useful with it--threatens the taboos surrounding the menstrual cycle. (Are you squirming while reading that? Exactly.)
Briganti's ideal customer is, she says, "a young, exuberant, active, strong, empowered woman, who cares about her health." In other words, the same fresh-faced women targeted in every lousy Tampax commercial.
She might be catering to the wrong group. Stem cells are making inroads in the cosmetics industry, firming eyes, lips, and boobs everywhere. There's no reason menstrual stem cells can't do the same. For some women, then, the curse could become a false blessing: overcoming one stigma to prop up another.
[Top image: Martin Seck; Middle image courtesy of Chelsea Briganti]