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Dr Jennifer Edwards (BSc 2003, PhD 2007) and Dr Michael Pascoe (PhD 2020) are part of a team of researchers from the University’s Schools of Chemistry, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Medicine, who have developed a self-cleaning period product designed to kill up to 99.999% of bacteria when exposed to sunlight.

The groundbreaking product has potential to improve quality of life for people who menstruate in rural and low-income communities across the world where access to single-use period products is often limited and costly.

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Field studies for the product, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are set to begin in November 2024 when 300 pads with a fabric insert will be distributed in remote rural communities in Nepal.

The pad’s fabric is infused with non-toxic metal catalysts that harness energy from the sun to kill bacteria, remove stains, and neutralise odours. It only needs to be rinsed with water and then left to dry in the sun to complete the cleaning and disinfecting process.

Dr Michael Pascoe (PhD 2020) and Dr Jennifer Edwards (BSc 2003, PhD 2007)

Dr Jennifer Edwards, project lead from the University’s School of Chemistry, described how the idea for the product came about.

“After my daughter was born, I was chatting to a colleague about the amount of energy involved in cleaning and maintaining reusable nappies.

“I wanted to avoid the waste of disposable nappies, but we were still having a huge environmental impact with the strip washing needed to keep them clean. I thought that there must be a way to use my work in catalysis to try and fix this problem.”

Her colleague had a connection to a Nepalese charity that distributes similar, reusable products to women to help manage their periods. With this connection, Jenny then realised that the technology had the potential for a much wider use, and she and the Cardiff team began their work.

Over the last two years, an intensive cycle of research and development has taught the team a lot about how to optimise the product. “Our work in the lab has given us a thorough understanding of how the fabric can work. Now we want to bring it to real-world communities where it has the potential to make a difference by reducing the risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections,” Jenny explains.

In 2023, the team travelled to Nepal where it’s estimated that up to half of female agricultural workers are experiencing urogenital infections at any time. In the global south, these infections are frequently associated with poor health and reproductive problems, including miscarriage. They can also result in girls and women missing school and work, impacting their ability to learn and earn.

Working with the Centre for Trials Research (CTR) at Cardiff University and research experts at Tribhuvan University and Global Action Nepal, the team are working to better understand users’ needs and compare their prototype pads with reusable washable pads already in use across the region. Once the six-month study is complete, the research team will gather feedback from participants and conduct detailed chemical and microbiological analysis of the pads, to help them develop the product further.

Jenny adds, “The field studies will help us to learn about patterns of use in the region, including washing and drying and, particularly, the cultural sensitivities that might surround menstrual health and hygiene.

“We will also collect data on how our product responds to the microorganisms found in Nepal to make sure our prototype is effective against a broad spectrum of potential pathogens. Understanding local practices and collecting these data are crucial to the development of our product on a wider scale, which we hope will enable safe and affordable access to period products for those who need it.”

Dr Michael Pascoe, a lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences who has also worked on the project says, “Countless individuals worldwide still lack access to reliable solutions to manage their periods safely. Our team's progress in the past year has been nothing short of transformative.

“By creating a period product that is safe, economically accessible, and environmentally sustainable, we’re not just innovating; we’re paving the way towards a brighter future for global menstrual health.”

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