Condom meets tampon to extract stem cells

Design student envisions a device made of medical-grade silicone that makes it easy for women to collect their menstrual stem cells.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

If the thought of menstrual blood makes you squirm, click the back button now. Consider yourself warned. A senior at Parsons The New School for Design, Chelsea Briganti, says the device she's designed is for "young, exuberant, active, strong, empowered" women anyway.

The device, essentially a menstrual stem cell collector, looks like an extra thick, artsy condom and functions much like a tampon; it is inserted, and its purpose is to sop up menstrual blood. Only Briganti's device, named the Mademoicell, is intended to be shipped to a lab, where the stem cells could help create such things as new heart tissue.

The Mademoicell collects menstrual stem cells. Chelsea Briganti/Parsons The New School for Design

"The stem cells found in menstrual blood possess embryonic stem cell markers, which means that they can differentiate between nine different types of cells," Briganti tells Fast Company. "These are more potent than bone marrow."

So far trials indicate that menstrual blood could be one of the most renewable and non-invasive (this term is certainly relative, I mean look at the length of these things) sources of "endometrial" stem cells--the endometrium being the lining of the uterus that regenerates monthly in menstruating women.

Collecting menstrual stem cells is not without controversy, but so far the main concern is not a moral one but rather a practical one: Are the most valuable stem cells actually shred during menstruation, or does the menstrual fluid contain only dying, useless cells?

Whether menstrual stem cells prove widely useful remains to be seen, but it seems to be only a matter of time before the Mademoicell, slated to cost $75 for a set of three, will be joined by an entire industry of easy-to-use stem cell collectors. In fact, similar services already exist, including C'elle, which back in 2007 already claimed 140,000 clients.

For women who suffer through severe menstrual cramps without any intention of bearing children, their monthly pain could soon serve a larger purpose, and the term "giving blood" could take on a whole new meaning.