Every month for about 40 years of their lives, women will get their period.
For most women,it can mean several days of pain and discomfort, ranging from a simple nuisance to completely debilitating.
The most common symptom according tothey are cramps, which are caused by contractions when the uterus sheds its lining.
Nanette Sene, co-founder and CEO of Montreal startup Juno Technologies, knows a thing or two about period pain.
“To me, (it feels) a bit like I’m being stabbed,” she said of her own menstrual cramps. “It’s a sharp pain that comes and goes continuously, comes and goes.”
Pain is unpredictable, Sene said, in the sense that you don’t necessarily know when it will start in its cycle and how long it will last from one moment to the next.
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With Juno, Sene has set out to help other women by creating a wearable pain relief device.
Sene said the wireless device is rechargeable, easy to use and fits discreetly under clothing.
“Our product is (intended) to relieve menstrual pain without any drugs and without the side effects that come with drugs, but it is still very efficient,” Sene said.
While Sene couldn’t reveal too much technical information due to pending intellectual property rights, he said it’s made to stick to the pelvic area and was developed by combining different technologies.
It works “by relaxing the muscles that create the cramps and also inhibits the sensation of pain,” Sene said, adding that the relief is almost immediate.
Current methods of treating menstrual pain, as described by thethey include over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, hormonal birth control, and sometimes surgery when the cramps are caused by a disorder.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests using a heating pad, reducing caffeine intake, and massaging the affected area, along with other self-care methods to relieve pain.
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However, Sene, guided by her entrepreneurial spirit, decided to take matters into her own hands.
She began researching the topic of menstrual pain two years ago while pursuing her master’s degree in industrial engineering at Polytechnique Montréal.
“I love the idea of entrepreneurship, but to create a great product or a great solution, you really need to find a problem that is real, that is big, that impacts a lot of people,” he said.
“And for me period pain is something that obviously affects a lot of people. It is 80 percent of women who suffer from it.
For some women with underlying conditions, the pain can be excruciating, she says.
“About 10 percent have extreme period pain and the reason I say 10 percent have extreme period pain is because 10 percent of women have endometriosis.”
The pain resulting from cramps can also affect people’s daily activities and lead to a loss of productivity.
Sene said there are times when he has had to take a morning off work, but also many times when that was not a luxury he could afford.
“So when I was a student and you have exams, it’s not an excuse they take into consideration.“
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Overcoming pain and discomfort to continue with school or work is a reality for many people.
“In a lot of situations, you can’t really use it to take the day off or take a sick day,” he said.
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TOof 2019, found that menstrual pain can cause women to lose almost nine days of productivity a year.
So, with a real problem on his hands, Sene teamed up with electrical engineering student and Juno co-founder Lynn Doughane to come up with a solution.
They formed a team, working closely with gynecologists and various mentors, and developed a prototype. And now that hard work is starting to pay off.
On Thursday, Sene received the Mitacs Social Entrepreneur Award for her efforts to turn her research into a business with the potential to impact the lives of Canadians.
Mitacs is a national nonprofit research organization whose goal is to foster innovation and drive commercial solutions, in partnership with universities, the private sector, and different levels of government.
For Sene, the award offers validation.
“The Mitacs award means that what we are creating is very innovative,” he said. “But winning the Mitacs award for social innovation also means that the problem we are dealing with is a social problem. So menstrual pain is a social problem.”
What surprised Sene most when she began her research was how few scholarly papers focused on the topic of pain.
“It’s a little ironic that there isn’t a lot of information on the subject, but it affects so many women,” she said.
With Juno, Sene hopes to advance the cause and break the stigma that often accompanies period pain.
The next step, he says, is to find the right partners to start clinical trials in a hospital setting.
A second prototype is currently in production for that exact purpose.
“So those are the actual tests that we’d love to start in early 2024.”
Canadian entrepreneur making that “time of the month” more manageable