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Women's health research gets congressional boost

Jan. 25 symposium on sex inclusion in biomedical research celebrates landmark NIH policy


Teresa Woodruff explains the fight for female inclusion in scientific research.

CHICAGO - Women’s health research got a federal and local boost with the declaration of a national Women’s Health Research Day to coincide with the 2nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research on Jan. 25.

This event celebrates the second anniversary of the implementation of the landmark policy set forth by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requiring investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. That means scientists have to include female cells or female animals in their grant proposals, which was rarely done in the past.

The symposium was hosted by the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in collaboration with Northwestern’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

“For the first time as a nation we are focusing on women’s health research, which will lead to healthier outcomes for women in the future,” said Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women’s Health Research Institute, who was a strong national advocate for the NIH policy change. “This will improve all the drugs that are developed for men and women. It’s the beginning of a research transformation. ”

Woodruff also is the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Feinberg and dean of The Graduate School at Northwestern.

Today, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, along with 27 of their Senate and House colleagues, introduced a resolution to designate January 25, 2018, as Women’s Health Research Day. Women’s Health Research Day recognizes the need to increase awareness of sex- and gender-based biomedical research, which the NIH did not consider prior to 2016, the underrepresentation of women in past biomedical research and the importance of inclusive health research for women.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared Jan. 25 Women’s Health Research Day in Chicago.

Even for disease prevalent in women, researchers have used predominantly male cells and male animals for their studies. As a result, numerous drugs were removed from the market by the FDA because of serious side effects in women.

This year's theme, "A Spotlight on Autoimmunity," featured lectures from national experts in sex-based immunology. The symposium also featured a panel discussion on the state of sex-inclusive science and research poster presentations.

Lectures included Sex Bias in Autoimmune Disease by Dr. Maureen Su from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Sex is a Biological Variable that Affects the Outcome of Infection and Vaccination by Sabra Klein of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Emerging Mechanisms in Immune-Mediated Diseases: Genes, Sex and Microbes by Jayne Danska of the University of Toronto.