UC biomedical engineering students work on transgender health project

Project aims to improve self-image of people experiencing gender dysphoria

Biomedical engineering students at the University of Cincinnati created a product to help decrease the gender dysphoria experienced by some transgender men during menstruation prior to gender-confirmation surgery.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science students Rucha Tadwalkar and Anna King wanted to help people suffering from gender dysphoria, the condition of feeling one's emotional and psychological identity to be at variance with one's birth sex.

The students spoke to experts in adolescent and transition medicine at the Transgender Health Clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Our goal was to create a menstrual device that is inclusive of all individuals to decrease the mental health side effects of gender dysphoria, which are heightened during the menstrual cycle” Tadwalkar said.

One in 250 adults representing about 1 million people in the United States identify as transgender, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Two students stand at a 3D printer.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science students Anna King, left, and Rucha Tadwalkar use 3D printers in a biomedical engineering lab. Photo/Michael Miller

They created a gender-affirming menstruation product and simulated the painstaking application process required to receive approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical products. The product is menstrual underwear cut as boxer briefs and includes an insertable foam bulge that replicates cisgender male genitals.

King said she saw firsthand how biomedical engineering inventions and innovations can change people’s lives.

“When my grandparent got a hearing aid, I saw how much that made a difference in their quality of life,” she said. “I realized I could use my talents to do something similar for someone else.”

What made the difference to me was working on something that had a social impact as well as a medical one.

Anna King, UC biomedical engineering student

King said there is vast potential for new medical innovations because of advancements in technology in both medicine and engineering. It is crucial that these advancements not overlook minority groups, she said.

“Doing this project reignited my passion for biomedical engineering,” she said. “What made the difference to me was working on something that had a social impact as well as a medical one. In my future career, I hope to work on projects that have an impact similar to this.”

Tadwalkar said she has always liked math and science, but volunteering at hospitals and giving back to the community convinced her to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering at UC.

“UC’s engineering program is amazing! The number of opportunities I got are insane. I am thankful for this school,” she said.

Tadwalkar said working on the project gave her a better appreciation for other people’s perspectives.

“I noticed how underrepresented the transgender community is in medicine It was really nice that Anna and I got to experience ways we could give back to the community,” Tadwalkar said. “It has given me a glimpse into what the health care system is like for marginalized groups of people.”

Featured image at top: UC biomedical engineering students Rucha Tadwalkar, left, and Anna King worked on a transgender health project. Photo/Michael Miller

Two students sit on a bench outside a university building.

UC students Anna King, left, and Rucha Tadwalkar are studying biomedical engineering in UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science. Photo/Michael Miller

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