Company develops an affordable at-home test to diagnose endometriosis using menstrual blood, helping women to detect the condition earlier.

A woman consults her doctor about chronic pelvic pain. She describes her symptoms, but finds it difficult to quantify the discomfort, since everyone has a different threshold for suffering. “How do you know, as a doctor, that the pain of the person is abnormal?” says Angelika Lackner, a scientist in Austria. “How do you know, as a person, if your pain is abnormal?” The patient might be experiencing menstrual cramps. Then again, she might have endometriosis, a condition whereby the lining of the uterus starts to grow outside the uterine wall, and which affects one woman in ten.

Endometriosis can occur at any time during the reproductive phase of a woman’s life. Some patients have severe symptoms, others no symptoms at all.

Currently, the only way to test for it is through laparoscopic surgery. This obstacle to easy diagnosis means that it generally takes between six and 12 years from the onset of symptoms until a woman learns she has the condition. But early diagnosis is key in stopping disease progression; when untreated, endometriosis can lead to organ damage, internal scarring, or infertility. Up to 50% of women with endometriosis have a difficult time conceiving. 

Undiagnosed pain can strain one’s personal life, too, especially since endometriosis sometimes causes discomfort during sex. “So, it’s an issue with your relationships, your social relations, your family,” says Angelika. “If you don’t have a diagnosis, they think there’s nothing wrong with you.”

To tackle the lack of medical research and provide a quicker diagnosis to women suffering from endometriosis, Angelika created the start-up Diamens (a combination of “diagnosis” and “menstruation”).

Solving the problem with science

Angelika, a PhD student at Kepler University Linz, admits that female health issues can be difficult to decipher, since women have fluctuating cycles. Moreover, until recently, most medical research has targeted diseases that concern men.

She and three other female scientists pursuing their PhDs at Kepler University Linz in Austria grew frustrated by the situation, as well as the medical community’s lack of focus on the subject. They decided they would find a way to accelerate the diagnosis.

Working together with Dr Peter Oppelt, chair of the university’s gynaecology department and a World Endometriosis Society ambassador, the four scientists analysed the data of 1 000 patients, looking for something they had in common. “The goal is a simple and affordable diagnosis for endometriosis for everyone,” Dr Oppelt says.

The detective work paid off. The group uncovered promising biomarkers, which they are using to develop an at-home test to diagnose endometriosis using menstrual blood.

© Diamens

Diamens is so young it’s not even a legal entity yet. They plan to launch the company early next year.

Their work is important enough that they were chosen as finalists in the 2023 European Investment Bank’s Social Innovation Tournament, which recognises entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their communities socially, ecologically, or environmentally.

A quick, affordable and necessary test

The four scientists are confident about the results of their research, which they will test with clinical trials next year. After the trials, there are regulatory hurdles to negotiate, and then they hope their test kit will be available by 2025 or 2026.

At first, they will target the B2B market, says Angelika, as it’s an easier starting point. Besides, “It’s really important to bring it into clinics, to make doctors aware, and give them an option” beyond surgery.

But the goal closest to their hearts is to provide the kits directly to the public, at a reasonable price point of under 100 euros. The team is still working out the details, but ideally, a woman could perform the test at home and mail it to the company, which would respond with a diagnosis and advice for next steps.

Angelika says that the markers they have identified can also provide possible targets for new medicines. As of now, there is no cure for endometriosis, only treatments, ranging from pain relief drugs to hormones to surgery. But even certain remedies are out of reach if a woman can’t figure out what’s wrong with her.

When the team of four go out and give talks about Diamens and endometriosis, Angelika is still surprised by the reactions: “There are so many women who have no clue, but come up and tell us, ‘Hey, I think I might have this.’ It’s shocking.” A large part of the challenge is simply spreading awareness—or, as she says, “showing them: You’re not crazy. You do have pain, and that pain needs a diagnosis.”

© Diamens