Adapted from a story that originally appeared on the Brigham’s website.
The Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology directs a wide range of clinical and basic research programs that investigate how sex and gender differences affect women’s health and how using this lens can improve the health of both genders.
“In the past decade, there has been significant progress in women’s health research, in part due to research at the Brigham,” said Hadine Joffe, MD, MSc, executive director of the Connors Center. “However, the extent to which diseases, drugs, devices and other therapeutic innovations may impact women and men differently is still unknown for many health conditions. The Connors Center strives to change this paradigm.”
A Rich History of Improving the Health of Women
Since its founding in 2002, the Connors Center has focused on developing national policies that help regulatory agencies include a sex and gender lens in research in the U.S. This focus on policy has led to high-impact work, such as the development of the policy on sex as a biological variable that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) put into effect in 2016. This policy mandates that researchers use both male and female animals and cells in lab research.
“Today, the Connors Center operates from our translational research program that we call the First.in.Women Precision Medicine Platform (FiW),” said Joffe. “The FiW platform is an organizational structure that helps fund and promote research within the Brigham that investigates treatments across all diseases that affect the health of women. Through FiW, we also aim to educate, inform and engage a range of stakeholders, ensuring novel therapeutics for diseases affecting both genders are optimally understood in both women and men.”
Importance of Applying a Sex and Gender Lens in Research
The Connors Center strives to encourage the global research community to imbue all clinical and basic research with a sex and gender lens. A wide body of research shows that many health conditions and medications impact men and women differently. Faculty at the Connors Center have published many articles exploring this perspective.
Most recently, Primavera Spagnolo, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Connors Center FiW platform, published a paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine discussing a sex and gender gap in COVID-19. Data studied by Spagnolo shows that while there are similar numbers of cases between the sexes, men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. This gap may be explained by differences in lifestyle, types of care received, behavior and/or biology. Spagnolo calls for more COVID-19 research to take sex and gender differences into account.
In another recent high-impact paper in Endocrine Reviews, Janet Rich-Edwards, ScD, MPH, director of lifecourse epidemiology at the Connors Center, provides insight into how researchers could more thoughtfully design and conduct studies to include a sex- and gender-informed perspective. Rich-Edwards suggests that designing studies with sex differences in mind will expand the relevance of biomedical research and promote therapeutic discoveries.
In addition, Deborah Bartz, MD, MPH, director of education at the Connors Center, published a paper in JAMA Internal Medicine that proposes all clinicians consider incorporating a sex and gender lens in their clinical practices. This includes recognizing the biological and environmental factors that affect the course of diseases in women and men. Bartz suggests that including such a sex and gender lens could optimize clinical care and improve the health of women and men.
“The visionary research done by the faculty of the Connors Center is emblematic of the work the Brigham is doing to transform the future of healthcare,” said Joffe. “Through research, clinical innovation and advocacy, the Connors Center is making progress in improving all areas of women’s health nationally and globally.”
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