In 2013, Wendy and Tom Naratil, Yale Class of ’83, established an endowment for Women’s Health Research at Yale specifically to accelerate discovery through our Pilot Project Program.
Since the start of this valuable support, the Naratils have seen the annual pilot project seed grants they have underwritten achieve important developments in understanding cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health, and more. These developments were made possible because WHRY’s Wendy U. and Thomas C. Naratil Pioneer Awards produced needed data to advance scientific discovery and demonstrate the feasibility of concepts that enabled our funded investigators to secure external grants capable of moving their work toward practical applications.
For example, Dr. Caroline Johnson’s Naratil Award allowed her to demonstrate how a very new, innovative technology — that shows us how our metabolic systems work — can trace the underlying digestive mechanisms behind a type of colon cancer that is deadlier in women than men.
Another Naratil Award-funded researcher, Dr. Kelly Cosgrove, in collaboration with Dr. Evan Morris, developed a new technology for imaging the brain that showed how tobacco smoking affects the brains of women and men differently in real time and now is adapting it for understanding different brain effects of cannabis between women and men.
Other ongoing research launched with the Naratil Pioneer Award includes investigations into a better way to identify and treat types of heart attacks more likely to occur in women than men and how to promote psychological resilience in health care providers facing enduring stress and whether there are gender differences in response to stress.
“This work is so important,” Wendy Naratil said. “Tom and I like the fact that when we support research, the returns are often much greater than the initial investments. We recognize that advancing science is a slow process. Making headway can take a long time, but you need to take that first step.”
The Naratils have now established a new endowment, directed toward helping the center meet its annual operating expenses — a need Wendy recognized from her vantage point as an active member of the WHRY Advisory Council.
“On a very basic level, if you don’t support the day-to-day costs, the center cannot do all the wonderful things it does,” she said. “Not just filling the gaps in research on women’s health but preparing students and junior faculty members. Establishing the science behind effective health policies. Growing with the community to make a bigger impact on public health.”
Tom Naratil said people might not fully understand how necessary such gifts are for the success of WHRY. With only limited support from Yale School of Medicine, WHRY must raise funds from individuals and foundations every year to support its mission.
“I think when some people hear about a Yale program or center, they might assume it comes under the umbrella of the university’s tremendous resources,” he said. “In fact, WHRY is thriving because people understand its importance and are willing to fund it.”
Wendy and Tom have at times added to their endowments, which continue to grow in value through Yale’s investment office.
“That’s what Tom and I like about endowments in general,” Wendy said. “Once they are established, we can add to them along the way to increase their impact, and they will continue to contribute to the mission forever.”