Can digital technology help 1.9 billion women feel better?
SRI and Lisa Health are on a mission to improve menopause management and promote healthy aging
Thanks to dramatic advances in machine learning (ML) and sensor technology, there is a rapidly growing number of digital solutions (apps, wearable devices, etc.) to help people better manage their fitness, weight loss, diabetes, fertility, pregnancy … the list goes on.
So far though, there isn’t a single, comprehensive advanced technology solution available to the 1.9 billion women worldwide who are going through one of the most significant and complex health events in a woman’s life: menopause. Many of these women experience long-term symptoms that impact their day-to-day well-being, as well as their overall health and longevity.
SRI and its venture spin-out, Lisa Health, are seeking to change that. “We feel very strongly that menopause requires a deep tech approach,” said Ann Garnier, founder and CEO of the digital health company Lisa Health “We decided to bring the advances in machine learning and sensor technology together to decode what’s really happening for each woman individually, offer corresponding, personalized treatment recommendations, restore well-being and promote health aging.”
Together, the organizations are developing the first data-driven, comprehensive digital health technology platform that empowers women to better manage their menopause symptoms and enjoy healthier life-long aging.
The menopause conundrum
Menopause is a natural event that every woman experiences. The time around menopause — i.e., menopausal transition and post-menopause — is also a highly complex and lengthy life stage that’s unique for every woman. There are 34 possible symptoms and numerable combinations, and they change over time. Studies show that up to 85% of women experience symptoms lasting 4–7 years and some up to 20.
Few women are well-prepared for this complex life stage, and once they’re in it, there’s not much in the way of easily accessible, reliable, or accurate support. “Fewer than 20 percent of physicians are trained in menopausal care, and there’s been a real dearth of advanced technology solutions to help fill this gap,” said Garnier.
Not surprisingly, many women may feel they are on their own to self-manage menopause. Many go through a years-long cycle of trial and error using products and services with little evidence to show that they work. Some may actually be harmful. Ultimately, many women settle for less-than-optimal wellbeing that, at best, negatively impacts their day-to-day lives and, at worst, can lead to serious and costly health conditions.
“Menopause is a critical time when women’s health risks start to climb very rapidly,” said Garnier. “There is a window of opportunity to engage women — not just to help them manage their menopause symptoms, but also to help prevent serious and costly conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and more.”
Data to the rescue
“One of the historic challenges with menopause is that we haven’t really understood the biological behavioral activity underlying it,” said Garnier. “Without information about how and why menopausal symptoms occur, women and healthcare providers are just throwing darts at a dartboard — and most of the time they’re missing.”
SRI’s Biosciences division has a team of scientists who are internationally recognized for their expertise in menopause. Fiona Baker, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Health Sciences at SRI International, and Massimiliano de Zambotti, Ph.D., lead of the Translational Sleep Technology Unit of the Human Sleep Research Program, are particularly focused on the interaction between two of the most common and severe menopause symptoms: hot flashes and poor sleep. Much of their research has explored the biopsychological events associated with hot flashes and insomnia, to help inform potential solutions for women and their physicians.
“Across the menopausal transition, women are more likely to have sleep problems, especially trouble with waking up frequently during the night and not being able to return to sleep. Many nights of disturbed sleep negatively affect quality of life, daytime functioning, and mood,” said Baker.
Through nearly 10 years of basic and translational research, the SRI team has amassed a wealth of data characterizing the physiological changes that occur with hot flashes, including establishing a link between nocturnal hot flashes and sleep disruption. Based on their findings, they’ve conceptualized and developed novel, practical tools that can help women and their physicians better understand and manage menopausal symptoms. These tools include an index to quantify and characterize sleep disruption, and advanced AI-based analytics and multi-sensor technology that detects hot flashes to classify and predict them.
“Being able to track and quantify the menopausal symptoms a woman is experiencing can help them prevent or mitigate their symptoms over time, and also help quantify the impact of specific treatments,” said de Zambotti, who is also a Lisa Health co-founder.
A first-of-its-kind menopause technology
In 2019, Lisa Health launched the first digital health platform for menopause. Shortly thereafter, SRI selected the company as part of its prestigious venture incubation program.
“We realized that our companies shared a vision of using advanced technology to help women manage their menopause journey,” said Todd Stavish, vice president and managing director, SRI Ventures.
Together, the Lisa Health and SRI teams committed to develop a comprehensive digital health solution that would leverage the power of deep technology and the data gathered by SRI’s researchers and Lisa Health to decipher the complexities of menopause and put women in control of this often challenging life stage.
In a recent AARP survey, 93% of women said they prefer personalized, non-invasive technology to manage their menopause symptoms.
The in-development Lisa Health digital health solution will use advanced analytics to synthesize data from wearable sensor technology, mobile phones and user self-report, providing users with easy-to-understand daily insights into their menopause symptoms and overall health. These inputs will be combined with women’s personal health goals to deliver highly personalized and evidence-based treatment recommendations ranging from holistic strategies to behavioral approaches and prescription therapies. The Lisa Health technology will also offer coaching, education and community.
“We’re aiming to track all of women’s menopause symptomatology and help them make the transition more smoothly,” said de Zambotti. “Basically, if you are transitioning through menopause, we will give you the data and insights you need to precisely pinpoint what’s happening and seek appropriate treatment.”
Women will also be able to share the information provided by the Lisa Health technology with their physicians to support a more meaningful conversation about treatment options.
“Physicians are very data-driven,” said Garnier. “Our technology will allow them to see what symptoms their patient is experiencing day-to-day and how severe and frequent they are, as well as how their symptoms have responded to various treatments. It gives both women and their doctors a much more comprehensive picture to support discussions and shared decision-making.”
The Lisa Health and SRI teams are working to transition the interventions and education currently available on the Lisa Health website to a mobile environment, and to integrate their website and mobile technologies. The team is also conducting a pilot with the Mayo Clinic to demonstrate the value of their novel platform.
Additionally, the National Science Foundation recently awarded Lisa Health a Seed Fund grant — with a sub-contract to SRI International — to support the research and development of the company’s novel menopause technology. “This award highlights the importance of deep technology for menopause, as well as the continued partnership between Lisa Health’s scientific and technical team and SRI International,” said de Zambotti.
“I think we’re in a very unique position to help women, in the course of managing their menopause symptoms, to age well and potentially prevent serious health issues,” said Garnier. “That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about — the possibility to change the disease and aging trajectory for millions of women.”
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Avis NE, Crawford SL, Greendale G, et al. Duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms over the menopause transition. JAMA Intern Med. 2015; 175 (4): 531–539.
David PS, Kling JM, Vegunta S, et al. Vasomotor symptoms in women over 60: results from the Data Registry on Experiences of Aging, Menopause, and Sexuality (DREAMS). Menopause. 2018; 25 (10): 1105–1109