This new at-home cervical cancer test aims to replace traditional pap smears — and it’s backed by Serena Williams

Left: The Teal Wand; Right: Serena Williams and Alison Rapaport Stillman

Anyone who has ever visited their gynecologist for a cervical cancer screening — the dreaded “pap smear” — will tell you that it is a rather unpleasant experience, with an archaic device at its center.

The speculum, or the device that allows providers to examine one’s cervix during one of these exams, hasn’t been updated since the 1940s, though many modern redesigns have been in the works for a while.

While these screenings are vital to the health of those with cervixes, the vulnerable — even traumatic — experiences folks have at the gynecologist (or the sexual trauma they may come to their appointment carrying) can make the appointment seem like a Herculean task.

The Teal Wand by Teal Health
Photo courtesy of Teal Health

In fact, even though screenings are proven to lead to early detection and have reduced rates of cervical cancers over the past 50 years, the percentage of women overdue for their screenings has increased over the past five years

This means, in the United States, one in four women are not up-to-date on their cervical cancer screenings.

Although these statistics are often due to a lack of accessible health care or knowledge about the importance of screenings, experts know that making these tests more approachable is a major step in improving cervical health at a large scale.

So — startup Teal Health has created an innovative new at-home screening device designed to make the experience much more comfortable.

Meet the Teal Wand, an at-home self-collect device that the brand says is “designed to comfortably fit all bodies.” The wand has a ⅝-inch diameter, similar to a standard tampon, as well as a soft sponge — not a bristly brush many may be used to.

While the self-screen is not the exact same thing as a pap smear, it promises to collect all the important information needed to screen for HPV and cancerous cells.

A drawing of a speculum
A drawing of a speculum from "A treatise on the medical and surgical disease of women," published in 1880. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

“Self-collect screening detects HPV, which infects both vaginal and cervical cells. It differs from a pap test, in that it is more sensitive for detecting pre-cancers and cancers, and can be detected accurately in both cervical and vaginal cells without the need for endocervical sampling,” Teal explained in an Instagram comment.

“The HPV assays used for this testing have undergone extensive testing to be sure the accuracy is adequate.”

With accuracy in mind, the Teal Wand seems much more preferable to clinical trial patients. Teal Health’s initial study of the device found that 97% of women who used the want said it was “easy” or “very easy to use.” 

Additionally, 92% of study participants also said they would choose this at-home collection method over clinician collecting, though 87% said they’d be more likely to get screened if the Teal Wand was an option at their clinician’s office.

Right now, the Teal Wand is in clinical trials for FDA submission in over 15 locations across the U.S., including Johns Hopkins, Yale University, and the University of Colorado. 

“It is absolutely critical that the rigorous standards of the FDA are met in order to keep women healthy and prevent cervical cancer,” Teal Health said in a statement. “Teal’s study and the caliber of the institutions working with us are a testament to our commitment to safety and efficacy.”

As the startup works to make the product widely available, pending FDA-approval, it recently announced an $8.8 million seed round from investors, including Emerson Collective, Serena Ventures, Metrodora Ventures, and Felicis Ventures.

Serena Williams and Alison Rapaport Stillman of Serena Ventures
Serena Williams (Left) and Alison Rapaport Stillman (right). Photo courtesy of Serena Ventures

If Serena Ventures sounds familiar, that’s because its managing partner is tennis champion Serena Williams. 

"For far too long women have been disenfranchised by their current healthcare experiences,” Williams said in a statement about the investment, “with women of underrepresented communities feeling an increased strain on their access and options surrounding healthcare.”

Williams’s VC firm specializes in funding diverse women founders — and Teal Health fits the bill, with a women-led team positioning CEO and co-founder Kara Egan at the helm. 

Another backer of Egan’s startup is Metrodora Ventures’ managing partner and former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton.

“Solving massive and critical health issues, including adherence to a national cancer screening, requires innovative solutions with expertise across the entire healthcare landscape,” Clinton said in a statement. 

Although the Teal Wand seems to be pioneering a breakthrough in gynecological practices, at-home cervical cancer tests are the norm in other countries around the globe, including Australia, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and more. 

In fact, the Australian government introduced self-screening tests in July 2022. Because of the widespread availability of such tests — and HPV vaccines — Australia is on track to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern by 2035.

“Women want and deserve a better option, one that gives them control over their own bodies,” an Instagram post from Teal reads. 

Kara Egan, CEO of Teal Health
Kara Egan. Photo courtesy of Teal Health

This sentiment is echoed in comment sections, as people share their experiences about finding access to care, experiencing excruciating pain at past screenings, and the need for inclusivity of diverse experiences in medicine.

“As a result of a [sexual] assault I didn't go to the gynecologist. If I had something like this I would have kept up on my health and perhaps would not have stage-four cancer,” one person wrote in the comment section of the company’s Instagram page. “My daughters will have more tools for preventative health. I love this!”

“With access to care issues across the US.. worsening, this could be a game changer for those struggling to get basic screenings,” another person wrote.

“Thank you for creating solutions for ladies with pelvic floor conditions like myself,” another Instagram user shared.

Once the Teal Wand is FDA-approved, folks will be able to request a testing kit, ideally at no cost. Then, it will be shipped to their homes, where they will find easy-to-follow instructions to collect their sample. Live support will also be available if needed. 

After sending their sample back to the lab, folks will be contacted by a medical professional to review their results or proceed with follow-up care.

For those desperate for an alternative to the traditional pap smear in the U.S., it’s now just a matter of time.

“The self-collection approach enables us to revolutionize the screening process and design it for the modern woman,” Egan said in a statement

“We’re thrilled to have such incredible partners and participants help us execute on this life-saving screening option in the United States, prioritizing and respecting a woman’s needs, time, and preferred experience.”

Article Details

March 19, 2024 11:51 AM
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