By Siouxsie Wiles 07/03/2019

For nearly a year, I’ve been raving about menstrual cups to anyone who would listen, trying to explain how they could disrupt the way many of us do scientific research. Sounds unlikely? Then read on!

I had the idea for the Open Source Period project when a story about menstrual cups hit the news in April 2018. To cut a long story short, a new lab-based study was suggesting that menstrual cups users may be at a higher risk of getting the potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome than tampon users. If you are interested in the nitty gritty of what that study showed and what it might mean for menstrual cups users, I wrote about it here, here, and here.

The story sent me on a hunt for any other studies that looked at the safety of menstrual cups and what I found was a bit alarming. There are hardly any. The one study that’s most often used as evidence that menstrual cups are safe followed 604 menstruating teens for about a year and didn’t see a single case of toxic shock. Good news, right? It turns out that if the incidence of toxic shock is the same in menstrual cup users as it is in tampon-users, the researchers would have needed 25,000 people in the trial to have a chance of seeing just one case of toxic shock!

Once my blog posts started being shared around, I was overwhelmed with emails and messages from menstrual cup users asking me for my opinion on the safest way to clean their cups. And my answer? I don’t know! But that got me thinking, could we build a community of menstrual cups user and researchers who could work together to figure out what the big unanswered questions about menstrual cups are, and then find a way to carry out the studies needed to answer those questions? I’m pretty sure the answer to those questions is yes, and the Open Source Period project was born.

Why Open Source Period?

I’ve ripped the name for this project from an incredible initiative called Open Source Malaria started by chemist Prof Mat Todd which aims to develop new medicines to treat malaria but guided by open source principles. Those open source principles are an alternative way of doing research which is called open research or open science. If you’ve some time, then check out my video which explains a little bit about what open science is and why I think it’s important.

In a nutshell, open science/research is all about being transparent about what did and didn’t work and opening up all processes and data to scrutiny. If we are going to build a community to tackle the lack of research around menstrual cups, then I think its only right that we take an open research approach to carry out that research.

So where is the Open Source Period project at?

Still in the very early stages! I’ve pulled together a team of great advisors (I’ll introduce them in a later post) and last year we applied for some funding from the Wellcome Trust Open Research Fund for some seed money to launch our project. Our application was shortlisted, but I’m afraid we weren’t one of the 9 projects funded. They received nearly 100 applications and only shortlisted 19, so we did well to get as far as we did. Now we’re looking for other places to find some seed money. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any ideas. I’ve also set up a donation page, so feel free to throw us a few dollars and spread the word.

In the meantime, if you would like to be put on our mailing list to be kept up to date with our progress, then sign up using the links below:

  • If you are a menstrual cup user who would like to be part of a clinical trial, log your interest here.
  • If you are an organisation that supplies menstrual cups and would like to donate products for us to test, log your interest here.
  • If you have something about menstrual cups you think we should investigate, log it here.
  • If you are a researcher interested in contributing or leading a project, log your interest here.

I’ve also been accepted on to the Mozilla Open Leaders Programme, a 14-week mentoring programme. I’m part of the Open Culture track and plan to blog about how what I’m learning could be applied to the Open Source Period project, so watch this space!