Image courtesy of Cambridge Consultants
According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), up to 80% of women experience vasomotor menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, when transitioning into and through menopause. Most of the women studied rated their symptoms as moderate to severe--significantly affecting quality of life. In fact, vasomotor symptoms are one of the chief menopause-related problems for which women in the United States seek medical treatment.
To explore what women in menopause experience and to propose technology-based interventions, Cambridge Consultants recently partnered with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, hosted at Newcastle University and Open Lab at Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science. They conducted a series of workshops to understand the impact of hot flashes, find out how women manage them, and establish a self-help technology to improve outcomes.
“When a woman goes into menopause, her estrogen levels drop, and this tinkers around with the thermal balance, which is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain,” said Nicola Millar, senior Programme Lead for Lifelong Health at Cambridge Consultants, in an interview with MD+DI. “And so the brain sends messages out that say ‘I’m overheating; I’ve got to get rid of lots of heat.' And these come from nowhere. In a way, it tricks the brain, because the body’s core temperature is not changing,” she explained.
“So we said, hang on, let’s put this on its head a little bit,” she said. “Could we create a device that could send a message back to the brain, and say ‘you’re okay,’ your body is not overheating?”
The company came up with a concept device, called Pebal, that might trick the hypothalamus, said Millar. It applies cold to temperature receptors on the skin, which gets the message back to the neural system. “We think that how it works,” Millar said. “It cuts short the hot flash. When you feel the hot flash coming on, you place it on the skin, and get relief.”
Millar says that they designed the device to be small and portable because the women at the workshops wanted something discreet that they could hold in their hands and then place on their neck, face, or upper chest when a hot flash occurred.
When the device is activated, probably by a button on the top of it, it releases compressed refrigerant inside the device. That condenses out onto a thermally conducted plate that is exposed at the bottom of the device, and that plate is placed on the skin. “It goes down by 15 degrees C, very quickly,” said Millar. “This provides instant cooling, which persists for a couple minutes or so.”
Pebal doesn’t rely on a power source. “That’s the joy of it,” says Millar. “It’s always ready. You press a button, and a second or so and you’ve got your cooling.”
The refrigerant is contained in replaceable consumable pods. The pods offer 10-12 cold shots during the day, which Millar said would be suitable for most women. The idea is that they could be obtained through an online delivery service, similar to the contact lens model.
Pebal is not yet commercially available, as it is a concept device, which according to Miller, is “one that has been designed and developed to a stage where it can clearly demonstrate how a product would work. Often you accompany that with functional prototypes, so people can understand how it would feel, how you might operate it, and then we often do some drawings and space models, so things to show what size it might be and types of materials you might use.”
Millar said that Cambridge Consultants would like to partner up with a company who has logistics knowledge of getting this type of product into market, indicating that they would like to find a manufacturing partner.