There is an enormous scientific knowledge gap regarding the sex- and gender-based differences in human experiences of health, symptom manifestation, the diagnosis of illness, and the treatment of disease. This affects the health of men and women and erodes the value of our biomedical dollar. In working to close this gap the Institute for Women’s Health Research has developed the Pioneer Award funding mechanism to provide seed grants ($25,000 each) to investigators who either currently study, or would like to initiate new research focusing on, the sex and gender determinants of health and disease. We strive to provide the catalyst that will encourage the Northwestern community to take the lead in designing and analyzing experiments based on sex. The knowledge gap will tighten with our continued efforts to help the research community (researchers, NIH, FDA and IRBs) transform their practices to a system that highly values sex as an important research variable. In turn, this transformation will translate into optimal care for both men and women.
Specifically this program:
- Funds early career investigators to conduct pilot studies that will help build their portfolio enabling them to become competitive for larger, federal grants.
- Provides a mechanism for senior researchers to mentor young scientists who are interested in sex- based research by providing funds to support these young investigators to work in their clinic or lab.
- Advances our knowledge of women’s health through innovative research and a collaborative spirit that allows researchers to “think outside the box”.
As we enter the third year of issuing grants, it is becoming clear what an impact these research dollars are making on women’s health at Northwestern University. Accomplishments from the 2008 round of funding are summarized below.
Real Impact – Key Areas
Sleep in Women
- Dr. Turek’s group discovered that hormone replacement restores sex differences in sleep observed in mice, in addition to demonstrating that the hormonal state of animals is critical to the sex differences observed in the responses to challenges such as stress or sleep deprivation. This funding trained several early investigators, one moved onto a career as Program Director at NIH, another is now professor at Moorehouse School of Medicine. This work has generated two published manuscripts and one manuscript under revision, as well as the submission of four research proposals (R03, RC1, March of Dimes and Burroughs Wellcome) and two fellowship proposals.
Peripheral Vascular Disease in Women
- Dr. Kibbe’s group demonstrated in rodents that sex and hormone status are important factors in evaluating vascular injury, neointimal hyperplasia, and the benefits of nitric oxide (NO)-based therapies. Male and female animals require different dosing of NO in order to inhibit neointimal hyperplasia, and this is likely attributable to differences between males and females at the cellular level. Furthermore, castrated animals require higher doses of NO in order to achieve similar efficacy compared to hormone-intact animals. This funding has changed the direction of Dr. Kibbe’s research, as Dr. Kibbe’s laboratory is now routinely studying the role of potential vascular therapies in both sexes. Dr. Kibbe was recently awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This award has also provided mentorship and support for a young investigator, Dr. Hogg, to work in Dr. Kibbe’s lab and pursue similar research. Data generated thus far has led to one manuscript submission and two manuscripts in preparation for submission.
Infectious Disease in Women
- Dr. Scarsi’s group is developing the first available population-based pharmacokinetic model in HIV-infected pregnant women, thus furthering our pharmacologic management of HIV-infected women including gender differences in antiretroviral efficacy and toxicity. Once enrollment in the study is complete, and data is analyzed, external funds will be pursued to expand analysis over the lifetime of HIV-infected women.
Mental Health and Neuroscience in Women
- Dr. Gollan wrote and issued a clinical protocol entitled “Standard of Care for Detection of Perinatal Depression” that serves as a guide for all Northwestern University-affiliated OB/GYN physicians in the Prentice Ambulatory Clinic, Northwestern Memorial Faculty Foundation, and Northwestern Memorial Physician’s Group to screen and triage patients who report perinatal depression.
- Dr. Gollan founded the Women’s Behavioral Health Services in Northwestern Memorial Faculty Foundation (Psychiatry), a new clinic offering pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy for women who are pregnant or postpartum.
- Dr. Gollan’s group is developing the first model to examine the cognitive, affective, clinical and biological variables that contribute to the onset of depressive symptoms during the postpartum phase. One R01 application will be submitted based on this work in February 2010.
- Dr. Woolley’s group has determined that all commercially available ERβ antibodies are not specific. Alerting the research community who have routinely used these reagents in publications and grant proposals is necessary to prevent additional investigators from drawing incorrect conclusions from faulty reagents. One manuscript is in preparation describing these findings .
- Dr. Woolley’s group discovered a novel new mode of estrogen action in the brain region important in learning and memory, anxiety/depression, and seizure activity in epilepsy. After further experiments are conducted a manuscript describing the findings and an R21 or R01 will be submitted.