Posted by on November 30, 2015 - 4:12pm

Biological differences between the sexes could be a significant predictor of responses to vaccines, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They examined published data from numerous adult and child vaccine trials and found that sex is a fundamental, but often overlooked predictor of vaccine response that could help predict the efficacy of combating infectious disease.

Sex can affect the frequency and severity of adverse effects of vaccination, including fever, pain and inflammation,” said Sabra Klein, PhD, lead author of the review and an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School’s W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “This is likely due to the fact that women typically mount stronger immune responses to vaccinations compared to men. In some cases, women need substantially less of a vaccine to mount the same response as men. Pregnancy is also a factor that can alter immune responses to vaccines.”

Researchers conducted a review of existing literature on several vaccines including yellow fever, influenza, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis and herpes simplex to obtain evidence of the difference in responses between women and men. They also examined the effect hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy have on vaccine efficacy. Researchers found that despite data supporting a role for sex in the response to vaccines, most studies did not document sex-specific effects in vaccine efficacy or induced immune responses.

“Understanding the biological differences between men and women to vaccines could have led to better distribution of the H1N1 vaccine during the early months. Our review of the literature found that healthy women often generated a more robust protective immune response to vaccination when compared to men,” said Andrew Pekosz, PhD, associate professor at the Bloomberg School’s W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “An understanding and appreciation of the effect of sex and pregnancy on immune responses might change the strategies used by public health officials to start efficient vaccination programs, optimizing the timing and dose of vaccines so that the maximum number of people are immunized.” added Klein.

“The Xs and Y of Immune Responses to Viral Vaccines” was written by Sabra L. Klein, Anne Jedlicka and Andrew Pekosz.

Source:   Johns Hopkins Newscenter

Posted by on November 24, 2015 - 3:59pm

Two recent studies just emphasized how important breast-feeding can be...for mothers. One study found that women who breast-feed may have more protection against a "particularly vicious type of breast cancer," while another report suggests breast-feeding can have positive implications for women who had gestational diabetes to avoid becoming lifelong diabetics. Prior research names other benefits too--such as decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancers, Type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis estimates that "near-universal breast-feeding in the United States could spare an estimated 5,000 women a breast cancer diagnosis every year and cut nearly 14,000 heart attacks"--a staggering statistic. These most recent studies on the effects of breast-feeding analyzed dozens of studies of nearly 40,000 cancer cases globally. This study was published in the Annals of Oncology and discussed how breast-feeding reduced the risk of hormone receptor negative tumors by up to 20%--significant because this type of breast cancer is known for being very aggressive. 

Dr. Marisa Weiss, senior author on the study, places pregnancy and lactation as important phases in one's breast maturation and life cycle. Interestingly, it is found that lactation triggers important changes in one's milk duct cells, which make the breast more resistant to cancer. Furthermore, women who have gestational diabetes are encouraged to breast-feed because "lactation improves glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity...improving lipid metabolism" and burning calories and fat that was accumulated during pregnancy. 

Indeed one's body undergoes many changes during pregnancy and lactation, and it is fascinating to discover how these phases connect to one's holistic health!

Source: The New York Times

Posted by on November 23, 2015 - 4:17pm

As the holidays approach, we may be more aware of the stresses surounding our working lives. Perhaps you always have a stressful job, or perhaps projects become more stressful when attempting to complete projects before the new year deadline. Whatever the reason, our jobs can be stressful and it is important to know how this stress can impact our cardiovascular health. In fact, women who report having high job strain have a 40 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and the need for procedures to open blocked arteries, compared to those with low job strain.

In addition, job insecurity -- fear of losing one's job -- was associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and excess body weight. However, it's not directly associated with heart attacks, stroke, invasive heart procedures or cardiovascular death, researchers said.  Job strain, a form of psychological stress, is defined as having a demanding job, but little to no decision-making authority or opportunities to use one's creative or individual skills.

"Our study indicates that there are both immediate and long-term clinically documented cardiovascular health effects of job strain in women," said Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., the study's senior author and associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass. "Your job can positively and negatively affect health, making it important to pay attention to the stresses of your job as part of your total health package."

Researchers analyzed job strain in 17,415 healthy women who participated in the landmark Women's Health Study. The women were primarily health professionals, average age 57 who provided information about heart disease risk factors, job strain and job insecurity. They were followed for more than 10 years to track the development of cardiovascular disease. Researchers used a standard questionnaire to evaluate job strain and job insecurity with statements such as: "My job requires working very fast." "My job requires working very hard." "I am free from competing demands that others make."

The 40 percent higher risks for women who reported high job strain included heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary artery bypass surgery or balloon angioplasty and death. The increased risk of heart attack was about 88 percent, while the risk of bypass surgery or invasive procedure was about 43 percent.

"Women in jobs characterized by high demands and low control, as well as jobs with high demands but a high sense of control are at higher risk for heart disease long term," said Natalie Slopen, Sc.D., lead researcher and a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University Center on the Developing Child in Boston.

Previous research on the effects of job strain has focused on men and had a more restricted set of cardiovascular conditions. "From a public health perspective, it's crucial for employers, potential patients, as well as government and hospitals entities to monitor perceived employee job strain and initiate programs to alleviate job strain and perhaps positively impact prevention of heart disease," Albert said.

Source:   American Heart Association (2010, November 15). ScienceDaily.

Posted by on November 19, 2015 - 3:51pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on sexually transmitted diseases reveals increased STD rates, especially among men. Cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have all increased and are the three most common STDs in the united States. Here are the numbers: in 2014, there were over 1.4 million cases of chlamydia, 350,000 cases of gonorrhea, and nearly 20,000 cases of syphilis in the United States--representing significant percentage increases since 2013. And these are just numbers from documented cases--there may be people who have these diseases but are not yet presenting with symptoms or are not seeking medical help, says Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention. 

The increased rate of gonorrhea has mostly been in men. Data suggest men account for about 75% of the people who have the disease. The rise in syphilis has mostly been driven by men who have sex with men. Hayley Mark, associate professor of community-public health at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing describes this as a "crisis in this group," encouraging sexually active men (and women) to get tested regularly. Mark states these increased rates of STDs may indicate a declining use of condoms during intercourse, but more research must be conducted to be sure. Access to healthcare may also be a factor for sexually active youths. STDs are both treatable and avoidable in most cases, yet many might not have access to clinics to get tested and treated--this is a significant barrier. Increased awareness on the risks of STDs could help people seek the care they require. 

Watch Dr. Teresa Woodruff's online Introduction to Reproduction course to learn more about STDs.

Source: CNN

Posted by on November 17, 2015 - 2:57pm

Autoimmune diseases are those where the body, for whatever reason, starts fighting its own cells with an immune response in the same way it would if the cells were a foreign invader (bacteria, virus etc). Women are more likely to get a whole host of autoimmune diseases than men are (see table to the left), including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Apparently, out of all the people suffering from auto-immune diseases in the US, 80% are female. That’s a phenomenal bias for a condition that, on the surface at least, has no clear tie to gender. According to the research (great review here), our increased risk of getting these diseases is simply our great immune systems working against us. Apparently, our immune systems are so great that we’re less prone to infection and have a much greater antibody response to those little invaders that do get in. Unfortunately, our systems are so strong that they also tend to go into overdrive, leading to this attack of our own bodies.

The culprits (or overachieving heroes, depending on how you look at it), are likely exactly what you’d expect: hormones or chromosomal influences. The hormone research actually shows that during pregnancy, women's immune systems switch to a far less aggressive regimen, likely to avoid attacking the fetus as an invader. This decreased immunity is the reason for the increased risk of pregnant women getting the flu, but it’s also the reason that many pregnant women notice a decrease in their symptoms of autoimmune disorders. It’s amazing to think that both the bad and the good stem from the same source: an incredibly strong immune system.


Posted by on November 12, 2015 - 1:47pm

Currently, 60% of women are using birth control (with over 99% of women having used it in their lifetime)--from the pill, hormone shots, and non-hormonal methods (like the diaphragm). But now, more and more women are turning to intrauterine devices (IUDs) as their choice of contraception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a survey that showed between 2002-2013, the number of women using the pill, condoms, and female sterilization has dropped and the number of women using long-acting contraceptives (IUDs or contraceptive implants) has more than quadrupled!

Once inserted, IUDs can be reliable for years without having to be replaced or tampered with. The convenience with IUDs is that there is little or no room for human error--no pill to remember, no contraception device to travel with--it just stays in your body to prevent pregnancy. The rise of IUD use is a little surprising, given that women in the United States have been slower to accept implants than women in other countries. This hesitancy was due in large part to misconceptions regarding IUDs being difficult to implant and causing infections. Despite these misconceptions (which have been around for over 30 years), women are starting to trust IUDs as the most effective form of birth control. It's important to remember that while IUDs are effective in reducing the risk of pregnancies, IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

An IUD is a T-shaped device implanted into the uterus for the purpose of contraception by preventing sperm from reaching the egg. There are four different IUDs available in the United States. Three of them, Liletta, Mirena, and Skyla, release a small amount of progestin similarly to a birth control pill, which usually makes periods lighter. One of them, ParaGard, also known as 'the copper T IUD,' is hormone free and lasts longer than the hormonal options, but can cause heavier periods. IUDs are more than 99% effective, but, again, do not protect against STIs.

The growing trust of IUDs is good news for women! It's important to offer many birth control options so that women may choose the method that works best for them.

Posted by on November 10, 2015 - 1:48pm

Eileen Pollack, author of "The Only Women in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys' Club" wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about her observations on women in the tech field--that we just had to share. Women only make up roughly 10-17% of all tech jobs in today's companies. While these companies are becoming more aware of their gender diversity problem, more research needs to be done to understand why women and minority students aren't opting to study computer science or engineering--and why they're not electing to continue in these fields. Indeed, female college students are four times less likely than their male peers to major in computer science or engineering, despite equal test scores in math!

Dr. Sapna Cheryan, a researcher at the University of Washington, has been studying this field for over six years and has interestingly discovered subtle ways that women feel excluded from tech-related majors. "Over and over, Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues have found that female students are more interested in enrolling in a computer class if they are shown a classroom decorated not with 'Star Wars' poster, science-fiction books, computer parts and tech magazines, but with a more neutral decor" that doesn't alienate members of the opposite sex. Beyond this, the cultural stereotypes surrounding computer scientists influence a woman's desire to take those sorts of classes. The media and popular culture often portray computer scientists as "socially isolated young men whose genius is the result of genetics rather than hard work." So, where do women fit into this? If the media doesn't show successful women in these types of positions, it's no wonder many women report feeling unwelcome in these fields. In fact, studies suggest that the public's image of a scientist hasn't changed since the 1950's! Yikes!

The face of tech needs to evolve and women need to feel accepted for being smart and hardworking in these fields. Computer scientists and engineers are "going to be designing the future everyone inhabits," so we need women and minorities to know they have a place in this future where they can be accepted.

Posted by on November 6, 2015 - 12:50pm

The female hormone estrogen is known to offer protection for the heart, but obesity may be taking away that edge in adolescent girls. Research from the University of California at Merced finds that although obesity does not help teens of either gender, it has a greater impact on girls’ blood pressure than it does on boys’. In a study of more than 1,700 adolescents between 13 and 17 years old, obese boys were 3.5 times more likely to develop elevated systolic blood pressure (SBP) than non-obese boys, but similarly obese girls were 9 times more likely to develop elevated systolic blood pressure than their non-obese peers.

Systolic blood pressure, which is represented by the top number in a blood pressure reading, is the amount of force that blood exerts on blood vessel walls when the heart beats. High systolic measurements indicate risk for heart disease and stroke. Rudy M. Ortiz, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology and Nutrition and his team obtained their data by direct measurements during the school district’s health surveys and physicals to assess the teenagers’ systolic blood pressure (SBP) against two health indicators: body mass index (BMI), which was categorized as normal weight, overweight, or obese, and blood pressure, which was categorized as normal, pre-elevated, or elevated. The researchers found that the teenagers’ mean BMI was significantly correlated with mean SPB for both sexes when both BMI and blood pressure assessments were used. They also found a significant correlation between BMI and SBP as a function of blood pressure, suggesting that the effect of body mass on SBP is much greater when it is assessed using blood pressure categories. “We were able to categorize the students in different ways, first based on BMI within each of three blood pressure categories. Then we flipped that around and looked at each category of blood pressure for different weight categories. In each case, we are looking at SBP as the dependent variable,” said Dr. Ortiz. An odds ratio analysis revealed that obese boys were 2 and 3.5 times more likely to develop pre-elevated and elevated SBP, respectively, than boys who were normal weight. Obese girls were 4 and 9 times more likely to develop pre-elevated and elevated SBP, respectively, than girls who were normal weight.

According to Dr. Ortiz, the results do not bode well for obese teens later in life, especially for the girls. “Overall, there is a higher likelihood that those who present with both higher BMI and blood pressure will succumb to cardiovascular complications as adults. But the findings suggest that obese females may have a higher risk of developing these problems [than males].” As for why obesity has a greater impact on SBP in girls than in boys, Dr. Ortiz has a hunch. “This may be where physical activity comes into play. We know, for example, that obese adolescent females participate in 50 to 60% less physical activity than boys in the population surveyed.”

It's important to take steps to prevent obesity at its first onset--for both adolescent boys and girls. Being active and eating healthy foods are great initial steps towards healthy living!

Posted by on November 2, 2015 - 3:51pm

No methods currently exist for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects one out of nine people over the age of 65. However, an interdisciplinary team of Northwestern University scientists and engineers has developed a noninvasive MRI approach that can detect the disease in a living animal. And it can do so at the earliest stages of the disease, well before typical Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.

Led by neuroscientist William L. Klein and materials scientist Vinayak P. Dravid, the research team developed an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) probe that pairs a magnetic nanostructure (MNS) with an antibody that seeks out the amyloid beta brain toxins responsible for onset of the disease. The accumulated toxins, because of the associated magnetic nanostructures, show up as dark areas in MRI scans of the brain.

This ability to detect the molecular toxins may one day enable scientists to both spot trouble early and better design drugs or therapies to combat and monitor the disease. And, while not the focus of the study, early evidence suggests the MRI probe improves memory, too, by binding to the toxins to render them “handcuffed” to do further damage.

“Using MRI, we can see the toxins attached to neurons in the brain,” Klein said. “We expect to use this tool to detect this disease early and to help identify drugs that can effectively eliminate the toxin and improve health.”

With the successful demonstration of the MRI probe, Northwestern researchers now have established the molecular basis for the cause, detection by non-invasive MR imaging and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Dravid introduced this magnetic nanostructure MRI contrast enhancement approach for Alzheimer’s following his earlier work utilizing MNS as smart nanotechnology carriers for targeted cancer diagnostics and therapy. (A MNS is typically 10 to 15 nanometers in diameter; one nanometer is one billionth of a meter.)

Details of the new Alzheimer’s disease diagnostic were published by the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Klein and Dravid are co-corresponding authors.

The emotional and economic impacts of Alzheimer’s disease are devastating. This year, the direct cost of the disease in the United States is more than $200 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s “2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” By the year 2050, that cost is expected to be $1.1 trillion as baby boomers age. And these figures do not account for the lost time of caregivers.

This new MRI probe technology is detecting something different from conventional technology: toxic amyloid beta oligomers instead of plaques, which occur at a stage of Alzheimer’s when therapeutic intervention would be very late. Amyloid beta oligomers now are widely believed to be the culprit in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and subsequent memory loss.

Read more

Posted by on October 28, 2015 - 2:37pm

Although women make up over half the U.S. population, they have, historically been underrepresented in clinical research. As a result, clinical trials that included both men and women largely examined the average reactions in treatments across both sexes, instead of examining sex as a variable. This is problematic becuase researchers are unable to learn how women and men may react in unique ways to new drugs or therapies; indeed, there have been higher instances of women having adverse effects than men in medications and other treatments. 

Due to the growing body of research that indicates diseases manifest themselves differently in men and women (meaning treatments need to be tailored to each sex), the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) was comissioned to provide information on women's participation in NIH research. The GAO "examined (1) women's enrollment and NIH's efforts to monitor this enrollment in NIH-funded clinical research; and (2) NIH's efforts to ensure that NIH-funded clinical trials are designed and conducted to analyze potential sex differences, when applicable." Their 57 page report classifies their findings and provides recommendations moving forward. This is an important step in increasing the number of women in clinical studies as well as improving the outcomes of these studies by examining sex as a variable!

If you live in Illinois and want to participate in clinical studies, please consider joining the Illinois Women's Health Registry or the Illinois Men's Health Registry

Please visit the GAO website to view the full report.