As the CEO of JOOR, the leading platform for wholesale business management, I spend my days immersed in the fashion industry. I'm used to weighing in on things like technology decisions, e-commerce trend, and the importance of real-time data.
But I'm also a citizen, a woman, and a mom. As such, I'm affected by what goes on in the world around me.
In December, I watched grisly reports about Jersey City with despair, as gun violence is something I've been profoundly concerned about since the devastating events at Sandy Hook. This year marks the seventh anniversary of Sandy Hook, and heart-wrenchingly, these poor children have now been gone longer than they were alive.
Sadly, these events are far too common in the United States. Every year nearly 1,300 children are killed and 5,800 injured by guns in this country, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017.
Translation? About 19 American children are shot on average every single day. As a mother and as a professional, I am absolutely appalled that nothing is being done to stop this terrifying trend.
I think about this when I sit down with my family for dinner each night. Frankly, the idea of my kids facing an armed shooter at school or in any public place is terrifying to me. And it's terrifying to them.
It may not be in my job description, but as a business leader, I have a responsibility to speak out on what is clearly a humanitarian issue. My feelings on this issue have nothing to do with politics. I'm disturbed that this has become such a partisan issue. I simply don't want to live in a country where 19 children are gunned down every day of the year, and I can't believe anyone else does either.
We're now seeing a trend of corporate leaders owning their power and responsibility by becoming social leaders as well. Peter Horst, consultant and founder of CMO Network, recently said that "in a world where they no longer expect the government to fix things, people are turning to Corporate America to step in and do some good."
Business Roundtable even supported this trend by expanding their "statement on the purpose of the corporation." The document now says that along with shareholders, companies should also consider employees, customers and the community as stakeholders whose interests should be included in decision-making. These are the people who are sending their children to school all over the country today. Just as I send my kids off each morning. It is refreshing that businesses are getting involved to advocate on their employees' behalf.
Along the same lines, I'm especially heartened to see private sector leaders taking action on the issue of gun control. In September 2018, Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Straus & Co., pledged more than $1 million to American nonprofit organizations dedicated to ending gun violence. Bergh made this decision in spite of the risk that it could alienate consumers; the moral stakes were too high.
I applauded Walmart's decision to end the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition as well as their request to stop open carry in their stores. And I was moved by Dick's Sporting Goods' destruction of over $5 million in military-style, semi-automatic rifles. Both actions came after the horrific shootings last August in El Paso and Southaven.
Despite all these signs of hope and progress, we are not moving forward nearly fast enough on the issue of gun control. Other than a few states passing red flag laws, little to nothing has really been accomplished, and now Jersey City is just another gruesome reminder.
If we, as a country, are serious about stopping mass shootings, we have to disengage from partisan politics and commit to truly protecting our families and communities from gun violence. With so much media coverage and debate, it's shameful we've made so little progress in solving the problem.
We know that gun deaths and injuries can be reduced, because we've seen it happen in other places. Yes, cultures vary, and each country must develop solutions that are unique to its own specific cultural context. But we can learn from nations like Australia, Britain, Norway, and Japan.
Research institutions can provide unbiased help moving forward. For example, the Rockefeller Institute conducted an in-depth study on mass shootings and developed a list of 19 strategies for intervention based on its findings. Each and every one of us must learn about gun laws in our states and advocate for strong research-based legislation that will make the changes we so desperately need.
It's time to set aside partisan fighting, roll up our sleeves, and craft solutions that allow our families to feel safe going to school, church, the market, or any other public place. It's time to take the Sandy Hook Promise, something I did after marching with the organization, and help them fulfill their mission:
"I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools, and communities." - Sandy Hook Promise
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."