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One year of sex-inclusive research celebrated at Jan. 25 symposium

Scientists to discuss progress, future, best practices of sex inclusion research and landmark policy

CHICAGO - Northwestern Medicine will host a symposium Jan. 25 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the National Institutes of Health’s landmark sex-inclusion policy. The NIH is revolutionizing the future of medicine by mandating that research funding is contingent upon the inclusion of female cells or animals in scientists’ studies. 

The Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research Workshop and Symposium will take place from 12 to 6 p.m.Wednesday, Jan. 25, at Prentice Women’s Hospital, 250 E. Superior Street in Chicago.

The NIH began requiring scientists to consider female cells, female animals in grant proposals last year.

Sex inclusion in research wasn’t on the radar screen for many scientists, according to remarks by NIH director Francis Collins during a Northwestern Medicine talk last spring. That all changed, thanks in part to efforts from scientists at Northwestern Medicine and other institutions.

Last January, the NIH mandated that researchers “study both male and female vertebrate animals and humans, where applicable, thereby improving our understanding of health and disease in men and women.” The mandate will significantly advance the future of medical research, diagnosis and treatment.

“It will revolutionize the way drugs and medical devices are developed, and medical treatment and diagnoses will be enormously different to the advantage of both women’s and men’s health,” said Teresa Woodruff, the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Two leaders in sex inclusion research, Northwestern alum Larry Cahill, professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, and Jill Goldstein, professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will deliver keynote addresses at the symposium.   

“When we look back 10 years from now, we’ll have a whole range of achievements that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for sex inclusion,” said Woodruff, the founder and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Feinberg, who has played a key role in raising consciousness about sex-inclusive research to make sure it is on peoples’ radar.

This annual workshop and symposium can account for what I think will be an explosion in science and medicine over time

Teresa Woodruff
Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

“This annual workshop and symposium can account for what I think will be an explosion in science and medicine over time,” she said. 

The anticipated changes from the NIH’s sex inclusion policy began impacting grant applications in fiscal year 2016 and grant funding in fiscal year 2017. The symposium, hosted by the Women’s Health Research Institute and the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, will cover sex-inclusive research progress since the policy was implemented and best practices for conducting future research. 

Additionally, basic scientists will learn how to do sex-inclusive work via the Women’s Health Research Institute’s toolkit. Experts leading the way in sex-inclusive science will discuss cutting-edge research.

“This event will bring together big thinkers in this field,” said Nicole Woitowich, director of science outreach and education for the Women's Health Research Institute. “Getting trainees, faculty and staff all in the same room will allow us to have a frank discussion on how to conduct sex-inclusive research going forward."

The event is open to the public but attendees must register and pay ($30 for community members, students, residents and postdoctoral fellows, $75 for faculty and staff). Lunch and a celebratory reception are included in the cost. 

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