Change is here. It’s happening now, and more is on the way.
Across the country, it’s becoming clearer every day: We must study the health of women. We must study the influence of sex-and-gender differences on health. And it’s time for all aspects of medical research and practice to embrace this change.
“We are asking better questions that will improve lives,” said Women’s Health Research at Yale Director Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D. “And providing ideas that reflect equity and inclusiveness, validated by careful testing and solid data.”
Now heading into our third decade, Women’s Health Research at Yale has led national efforts to ensure medical research and practice focuses on the health of women and sex-and-gender differences. These efforts are improving science to account for the unique needs of women and men, offering more effective strategies and methods for attaining and maintaining health.
For example, WHRY is:
- Advancing studies on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of serious diseases and conditions, such as heart disease and cancers
- Forging scientific partnerships across fields of expertise to respond to difficult, real-world health problems that affect people in their daily lives
- Training new scientists and health care providers so they have the knowledge and tools necessary to care for people based on individual needs
- Communicating and explaining new health information to the community, grounded in the latest and most accurate research findings so that people know what they need to know when making decisions about their health
- Elevating the national conversation on health and working with key decision-makers so that changes to health policies more fully address the influence of sex and gender
We do all of this for a simple reason. By improving how science is conducted and applied in medical practice, we are helping people become healthier, happier, and more productive. In short: Better science means better lives.
This core principle informs our new tagline, joined to the name of our center as a statement of purpose and a signal of our forward momentum — Women’s Health Research at Yale: Better science, better lives.
“'Better science, better lives' reflects the center’s primary objective but also our confidence that we are at the forefront of a fundamental change in science,” said WHRY Assistant Director Elizabeth Luoma, Ph.D. “We are turning a new page and placing the emphasis where it belongs — on more informed research and improved outcomes for everyone.”
Dr. Mazure founded WHRY in 1998, not long after the federal government first required the inclusion of women in clinical trials seeking key federal funding. With generous and thoughtful gifts and grants from dedicated individuals and foundations, Dr. Mazure’s self-supporting center led the way for others to begin studying women and sex-and-gender differences. In 2016, official guidelines for that same key federal funding began requiring applicants to include female animals, tissues, and cells in the types of ground-level laboratory studies necessary to lay the foundation for human trials.
The National Institutes of Health — the single largest funder of biomedical research in the world — authored those guidelines and is now requiring the design of all studies to consider sex as a biological variable (SABV).
This latest change is important because, even today, many researchers continue to mix data on males and females together without analyzing how sex or gender might influence their results. Unless researchers take this vital step, they cannot identify potential sex-or-gender-dependent paths of disease prevention and treatment.
“Better science, better lives” also means building new frameworks that enhance our ability to treat the unique needs of every individual. Toward this end, Women’s Health Research at Yale is now calling for a change in how society and medical science can sometimes unnecessarily assign value to the word “difference.”
“In health research, difference does not have to mean better or worse,” Mazure said. “We can study natural variations that undeniably exist between women and men without making these kinds of value judgments.”
Researchers are now beginning to pick up the pace in studying the health of women and discovering new sex-and-gender differences. And WHRY continues to lead the way. For example, our investigators are:
- Designing and deploying a better way to describe and group heart attacks that accounts for the different ways they can develop in women
- Increasing the diagnostic clarity of the genetic risks for breast and ovarian cancer
- Implementing a behavioral treatment for autism spectrum disorder tested on girls for the first time, showing a better result for girls than boys and allowing researchers and behavioral therapists to explore the specific, different needs of girls and boys with autism
- Uncovering how the chemical fingerprints of digestion can explain why colon cancer risk is different between women and men
- Developing a safer, less invasive way to ensure a healthy pregnancy
- Employing the latest mobile technology and data-driven storytelling techniques to help mothers and daughters break the cycle of intimate partner violence
- Defining the different mechanisms and greater adverse effects of addictions for women, including smoking tobacco and cannabis
- Demonstrating how our body’s own bacteria can affect the development of autoimmune disease
These projects, individually and through their wide influence, improve our ability to prevent and treat diseases and conditions. Every dollar directed toward these and similar studies is a dollar invested in producing a healthier future for us all.
In fact, the financial impact WHRY fosters has been exponential. Over 20 years, the center has launched nearly 100 pilot projects with $5 million in WHRY funding. In return, our funded researchers then generated findings to fuel another $102 million in external funding that goes back into their laboratories and clinical research settings. This funding enables the researchers to continue translating their work into clinical applications with a practical benefit for the public.
“By fostering research at the earliest stages, WHRY ensures that the health of women and the study of sex-and-gender differences becomes a part of the fabric of how people think about their work,” Mazure said. “Yale has tremendously talented and influential scientists with enormous ‘reach,’ through active collaborations and by setting an example.”
Change is finally here. Thanks to WHRY, more change is coming, and we are not turning back.
With your help, we are making science better so that we can all live better, more fulfilling, and happier lives.