Recently Funded Studies

Women’s Health Research at Yale supports inventive new research designed to discover and develop solutions to health conditions affecting women today. This year’s Pilot Project Program research areas include stem cell therapy for hypoparathyroidism, a debilitating disease primarily affecting women; creation of the first dual-purpose intravaginal ring for HIV transmission prevention and contraception; and a pioneering treatment model for uterine serous cancer, the most lethal endometrial cancer. 

The reach and productivity of the Pilot Project Program have been dramatically increased this year with the inaugural Wendy U. and Thomas C. Naratil Pioneer Award.

Click here for the 2014 Awards Press Release

The 2014 WHRY Pilot Project Program grants and recipients:

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Continuing the Development of Stem Cells for Therapy in Hypoparathyroidism
PI: Diane S. Krause, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Laboratory Medicine, of Cell Biology, and of Pathology.

Thyroid cancer occurs three times more often in women than men. Treatment often includes the removal of the thyroid gland, and a common, unavoidable complication of surgery to remove the malignancy is removal of the nearby parathyroid glands, which are critical for calcium balance in the body. Hypoparathyroidism, which results from defects in the parathyroid glands or their removal during surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid, is a devastating disease that primarily affects women. Because patients lack the ability to regulate calcium levels in their blood, they are at risk for irregular heartbeat, debilitating muscle cramps, seizures and other serious conditions. Treatment typically involves taking calcium but this can prove very challenging over a long period. Dr. Krause’s team previously was funded through a WHRY pilot grant to begin development of stem cells that can be transformed into parathyroid cells. This project is to continue the inducement of stem cells to develop into parathyroid cells that would secrete parathyroid hormone to maintain normal calcium balance. Cellular replacement could promise a cure.

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Creating a Dual-Purpose Method to Prevent Sexually-Transmitted Infections and Pregnancy
PI: W. Mark Saltzman, Ph.D., Goizueta Foundation Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, and Chair of Biomedical Engineering

No adequate methods to protect women from the transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections exist. Dr. Saltzman will design a new intravaginal ring (IVR) for the simultaneous prevention of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, using materials and methods known to be safe and expected to be acceptable to women. Saltzman brings an extensive biomedical engineering background in developing drug delivery systems using materials such as safe, ultra-tiny nanoparticles and non-toxic polymers. Specifically, he will develop an IVR that will slowly release contraceptive agents embedded within the ring and will also slowly release nanoparticles loaded with drugs to provide sustained protection against sexually transmitted infections.

Such sustained-release formulations have proven difficult or impossible to achieve with other IVR designs. Dr. Saltzman will overcome this challenge through the use of two independent mechanisms for releasing the different preventive agents, and using specially-designed nanoparticles that will safely penetrate tissue and slowly release drugs locally. This new dual prevention method will have the potential to significantly reduce the 7,000 new HIV transmissions that occur in women worldwide each day, while simultaneously providing a safe, effective method of contraception.

The inaugural Wendy U. and Thomas C. Naratil Pioneer Awardee

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“Personalized Medicine” for the Most Lethal Endometrial Cancer
PI: Alfred L.M. Bothwell, Ph.D., Professor of Immunobiology

Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological cancer in the U.S., with approximately 50,000 new cases and more than 8,000 deaths annually. Uterine serous cancer, a particularly aggressive form, accounts for 10 percent of endometrial cancer cases, but is responsible for nearly 40 percent of endometrial cancer deaths. Thus, new, more effective treatment strategies are desperately needed. Dr. Bothwell will tackle this challenge by developing a radically innovative mouse model of uterine serous cancer that more closely simulates a patient’s experience than existing models, by integrating the patient’s immune system and tumor pathology. This model will usher in “personalized medicine,” allowing treatments to be tailored and optimized for individual patients. Specifically, Dr. Bothwell will test, for the first time, how drugs or drug combinations interact simultaneously with immune response, tumor response and genetic factors. Because uterine serous cancer spreads quickly, the evaluation of therapies must be completed as rapidly as possible to benefit patients. This experimental model will allow evaluation much faster than would be possible in human clinical trials, thus providing tremendous clinical benefit.

Since inception, WHRY has awarded more than $4.6 million in annual pilot grants to more than 70 investigators who have obtained more than $56 million in external grants to further their research.