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The FemTech Forward Conference 2024 marked the first conference in this field in Oxford. Led by Christiane Hagel, DPhil Candidate in Clinical Medicine and President of the Oxford FemTech Society, the event gathered over 80 participants from diverse disciplines to explore advancements in women's health technology.

Group photo of the FemTech conference panel

Held on the 10th May 2024 under Green Templeton’s annual Human Welfare Conference and led by Christiane Hagel - DPhil Candidate in Clinical Medicine with the Health Systems Collaborative and President of the Oxford FemTech Society - the first FemTech conference in Oxford brought together healthcare professionals, researchers, innovators, founders, start-up accelerators, and investors. The conference aimed to explore technological advancements to address health gaps, and foster collaboration between academia, industry, and public services for sustainable development in women’s health.

FemTech, short for "female technology," encompasses software, diagnostics, products, and services designed to focus on women's health. This field addresses a wide range of issues specific to the female body, such as reproductive health, hormonal and mental health conditions and chronic diseases, by providing innovative solutions through mobile apps, wearable devices, diagnostic tools, and online platforms.

The keynote by Dr Helen O’Neill, tenured lecturer at UCL and founder of Hertility, highlighted the transformative potential of technology in healthcare. Despite advancements in many aspects of life, women’s health needs remain underserved. Dr O’Neill noted that 1.6 billion women suffer from gynaecological conditions and every woman experiences significant hormonal changes throughout life, yet these areas are inadequately addressed by current healthcare systems. She emphasized the need for comprehensive solutions, which is one of the reasons she founded Hertility. What began as a clinical trial now offers online reproductive health assessments and personalised services.

A panel discussion featuring Dr Sharon Dixon and Tori Ford from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care stressed the necessity of inclusive technology that avoids exacerbating existing disparities. They highlighted the importance of patient advocacy and the risks of relying on biased data and outdated statistics. “Technology is an enabler,” noted Elisa Sai, Vice President of Capgemini Invent, “but it must be designed thoughtfully to avoid creating new disparities.”

Professor Christian Becker and Dr Tatjana Gibbons from the Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health presented research on endometriosis, revealing the significant economic and personal toll of this condition, affecting up to 10% of women, who are on average waiting for 7 years to be diagnosed. Once diagnosed, there are not sufficient treatment options besides surgeries that most of the times will not take away the burden of pain. Innovative diagnostic methods using AI and advanced imaging were showcased, offering hope for earlier and more accurate detection that could lead to more targeted treatment.

Health startups presenting their innovations were:

  • Serac Healthcare: Imaging technology for diagnosing and assessing disease activity in inflammatory arthritis and endometriosis.
  • Verso Biosense: Minimally invasive uterine environment sensors to measure temperature, pH, and oxygen levels, aiding in diagnosing conditions and assessing fertility.
  • Booby Biome: Breast milk microbiome preservation to improve infant health by maintaining the microbiome in stored breast milk and addressing the disparities in infant feeding.
  • Hertility: Comprehensive reproductive health care through online assessments and personalized services, with a new health-tracking app launching this summer.
  • Jack Fertility: Home sperm testing kit designed to make fertility assessments for men more accessible and less invasive, also advocating to empower men and take the burden from women about (in)fertility.
  • Calla Lily Clinical Care: Combining a tampon and pantyliner to prevent leaks, along with a device for better delivery of medication for IVF and miscarriage prevention, enhancing comfort and convenience.

Thang Vo-Ta, co-founder of Calla Lily highlighted challenges in women’s health, including systemic reluctance to change and difficulties in obtaining funding. Despite five failures before securing funding, Vo-Ta’s perseverance led to the invention of a biodegradable tampon and a device to improve medication delivery for IVF and miscarriage prevention. This product aims to enhance comfort and convenience and at the same time potentially save £236 million annually. Vo-Ta emphasized the importance of perseverance and innovation in overcoming systemic barriers in women’s health. The final panel on private investment trends in FemTech featured Victoria Armstrong (Angel Investor) and Kate Nikityuk (FemTech Lab), highlighting growing interest but emphasizing the need for more funding and mentorship for women-led research spin-offs.

The conference concluded with remarks emphasizing the critical role of accurate data and the importance of collaborations between academia, industry, and public services to foster sustainable development and advancing women's health. The organisers added that the future of women’s health relies not only on technological advancements but also on well-designed, inclusive, and patient-centered care. FemTech, driven by individuals with exceptional perseverance, many of whom have faced personal health challenges, inspires to change current health services for women.

The FemTech Forward 2024 conference was an inspirational event, showcasing the potential of technology to transform women’s healthcare by merging academia and innovation. Thanks to the Oxford FemTech team led by Christiane Hagel and the support of Green Templeton College, this was Oxford’s first conference in this field.

Group photo of the participants to the FemTech 2024 conference