A Historical Knowledge Gap
The first major study of estrogen’s effects on coronary heart disease risk, conducted in the 1970s, included 8,341 men — and no women. It was not until 1986 that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s largest single funder of biomedical research, created a guideline recommending that women be included in its funded health research. In 1990, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that little progress had been made in implementing this recommendation.
It was not until 1993 that the United States required the inclusion of women in clinical studies seeking NIH grants. It was not until 1994 that the NIH wrote and implemented the law’s guidelines. New studies based on the inclusion of women outside the realm of reproductive health only began to emerge in the early 2000s. Further, it was not until 2016 that NIH-funded laboratory studies required the use of female vertebrates.
This recent change in national science funding policy is important. Science developed in the lab often provides the foundation for later human studies. Without the inclusion of females, these study findings lack the basis for exploring differences between women and men. Today, women remain underrepresented in many areas of study. This includes heart disease and cancer — the two greatest causes of death for women.
What does this mean?
The historical exclusion of women as participants in research studies created a significant gap in health data for women. As a result, women today face risks for unrecognized and potentially life-threatening disorders. Women are also less likely to have empirically tested prevention and treatment strategies. Altogether, the shortage of research data has led to a dedicated need to study the health of women.
Research on the health of women has grown in the last two decades. Many studies now include female and male subjects. But available data on women and sex-and-gender differences that can inform health care remain limited.
Enter: Women’s Health Research at Yale
In the early 1990s, Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure became part of a grassroots effort to advance scientific progress on women’s health. This effort focused on ensuring that the NIH’s federally funded medical research includes women as participants. In 1998, she founded Women’s Health Research at Yale (WHRY) to expand these efforts and make sure they endure.
Since 1998, WHRY has ensured the study of women and health differences between and among women and men to improve health outcomes for all. WHRY has become a national model for launching research on the influence of sex and gender on human health. For translating findings into clinical and community practice. For sharing health information with the public and policymakers. For providing education on the health of women and sex-and-gender health differences. And for mentored training in interdisciplinary team science.
The center focuses research on rising health threats that affect women or have known sex-or-gender effects. One prominent example is the coronavirus pandemic. We are also accelerating ongoing efforts to address the many pressing health needs of women.
With support from foundations and individual donors, the center provides the leadership, seed funding, and strategic vision required to pursue and achieve its initiatives.