WhiteFeather Hunter is a Canadian researcher pursuing a Ph.D. at The University of Western Australia. She told us about her work on menstrual blood products and what ‘women in STEM’ really means to her.
I am currently investigating the potential of human menstrual serum for use in mammalian tissue culture. I have developed new protocols for producing menstrual serum, produced an initial usable batch of the serum, and conducted successful experiments culturing viable human cell types that thrive already in menstrual fluid. My hypothesis is that mammalian tissue culture with a variety of cell types is viable in menstrual serum, and that menstrual serum is one possible alternative to conventional fetal calf or venous human serum for targeted experiments in female-specific disease types.
Research involving menstrual blood products is a challenge to certain cultural taboos that may limit scientific progress. Most commercially available human serum products are exclusively male in origin, which may impact research results where female-specific soft tissue pathologies are concerned. Very recent research has analyzed the unique growth factors of menstrual fluid compared to venous blood, as well as establishing its potential for skin wound repair. However, there still remains a relative dearth of scientific information about the wider applications of menstrual blood in biotechnological contexts.
‘Women in STEM’ should not just be about including more women researchers in sci-tech fields, but also about establishing more research outcomes that directly impact women's increased wellbeing. I'm interested in women-led science, for women. A better understanding of female-specific physiological materials is important because it is still under-researched. My work aims to break down stigmatizing taboos, and contribute to normalizing research around female body materials, to promote one of the unique contributions that women can make to science.