Posted by on January 27, 2017 - 2:17pm

On January 25th, 2017 the Women’s Health Research Institute, in collaboration with the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, hosted the Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research Workshop and Symposium. The event celebrated the 1-year anniversary of the NIH policy which asks federally-funded investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. Numerous students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members attended the day-long event which featured a panel discussion, keynote lectures, and invited talks by experts in sex-based research.

An excerpt from the opening lecture given by WHRI founder and director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff, can be found below.

Resources from the workshop, including lecture videos, will be accessible through the Sex Inclusion @ NU toolbox ( 

Posted by on January 13, 2017 - 10:54am

This week, the podcast associated with the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, “Brainpod,” released an episode entitled, “Sex as a Biological Variable: Who, What, When, Why and How.” The podcast discusses the eponymous article penned by Drs. Tracy Bale and Neill Epperson from University of Pennsylvania [1]. The authors provide guidance on sex-based study design and rationale for incorporating sex as a biological variable within both biomedical and clinical research. They debunk common misconceptions surrounding the use of female rodents, provide context as to what would be considered an appropriate “single-sex” study, and briefly discuss the organizing effects of estrogen and testosterone in brain development.

 Click here to listen to the podcast.  

 Want to learn more about sex-inclusive science? Visit Sex Inclusion at NU!   

1. Bale and Epperson., Neuropsychopharmacology (2017); 42:386–396. 

Posted by on January 1, 2017 - 4:18pm

Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, cause chronic inflammation and irritation of the digestive tract. Affecting over 1 million Americans, these disorders can cause significant physical and emotional distress due to frequent abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding [1]. A recent study in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Disease found that women who suffer from Crohn’s disease may respond differently to treatment than men [2].

The study examined how both men and women with Crohn’s disease respond to treatment with adalimumab, a common biologic therapy used to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation [3]. The authors found that women who took adalimumab experienced more side effects than men, and were more likely to discontinue treatment as a result. Although this study was limited in scope with only 188 participants, it demonstrates a real issue in healthcare – men and women may respond differently to the same type of treatment. The authors suggest that healthcare professionals discuss realistic expectations for treatment with adalimumab, which includes full disclosure of potential side effects. Likewise, the results of this study may help guide the development of sex-specific therapies and personalized treatments for irritable bowel disease. 


1. Centers for Disease Control
2. Lie et al., Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2017 Jan;23(1):75-81.  
3. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America  


Posted by on December 14, 2016 - 11:41am

High impact medical journals have the ability to generate substantial changes in clinical research methods, analyses, and reporting through publication guidelines. This week, executive editor of The Lancet, Jocalyn Clark, co-authored an editorial urging for thorough reporting of sex-specific findings in medical journals [1]. The authors analyzed data from 60 clinical trials published in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, and found results which require thoughtful attention.  

While the overall number of female participants in clinical research has increased from 37% in 2009 to 41% in 2016, it still falls short of the ideal goal of 50%. Despite the fact that each study included male and female participants, 57% did not perform any sex-specific data analysis. The authors note that The Lancet encourages, but does not require, researchers to analyze data by sex. Therefore, they suggest if high-profile medical journals were to make sex-based analyses and reporting a requirement for publication, this would lead to improved health outcomes for all.

For further reading on this topic:

Sex based subgroup differences in randomized controlled trials: empirical evidence from Cochrane meta-analyses
Wallach et al., BMJ. 2016;355:i5826.

Implications for Journals of Sex-Specific Reporting Policies of Journals
Sex-Specific Reporting of Scientific Research: A Workshop Summary
Institute of Medicine, 2012.

1. Avery and Clark, Lancet. 2016; 388(10062): 2839-2840.  

Posted by on November 22, 2016 - 3:41pm

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that women who had children at an older age were more likely to live a longer life [1]. The authors analyzed the medical, reproductive, and lifestyle histories of more than 20 thousand women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study designed to learn more about women’s health and well-being through the ageing process. They found that women who had their first or only child after the age of 25 were more likely to live into their 90s than women who had their child(ren) before they were 25 years old.

The present study is the latest in a series which have explored the relationship between maternal age and longevity [2,3]. Together, these studies suggest that reproductive health is an indicator of overall health. However, the authors caution that this data should not encourage individuals to delay childbearing in an attempt to live longer, as the study has some limitations. First, women who had children after the age of 25 were more likely to be college educated and have a higher income. These socioeconomic and lifestyle factors may influence overall health. Likewise, they were less likely to be obese or suffer from any chronic conditions that might reduce longevity.

Within the United States, the average age at first childbirth has increased significantly, from 24.9 in 2000 to 26.3 in 2014 [4]. Going forward, it will be of great interest to study this generation of women, so that we may gain a better insight into how reproductive habits influence women’s health and well-being.

1. Shadyab et al., Am J Public Health. 2016 Nov 17:e1-e7. [Epub ahead of print].
2. Sun et al., Menopause. 2015 Jan;22(1):26-31.
3. Jaffe et al., Ann Epidemiol. 2015 Jun;25(6):387-91.
4. Centers for Disease Control

Posted by on November 11, 2016 - 2:48pm

The Journal of Neuroscience Research released the on-line version of its January/February 2017 issue [1], which is dedicated to sex- and gender-based research in the field of neuroscience.  Aptly titled, “An Issue Whose Time Has Come: Sex/Gender Influences on Nervous System Function,” the issue features a series of commentaries, reviews, and research articles highlighting the sex and gender differences that exist within the brain and nervous system.

The special issue was edited by Dr. Larry Cahill,  neuroscientist and sex-inclusion advocate, from the University of California Irvine. Dr. Cahill will be a featured speaker and panelist at the Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research Workshop & Symposium hosted by the WHRI on January 25th, 2017.

With the push for sex and gender inclusion in the biomedical sciences, the WHRI encourages other journals to highlight sex-based research and applauds those who have already done so, such as Addiction Biology [2] and Atherosclerosis [3].

1. Journal of Neuroscience Research. 2016; 95(1-2): 1-791.
2. Addiction Biology. 2016; 21(5): 993-1059.
3. Atherosclerosis. 2015; 241(1): 1-288. 

Posted by on October 21, 2016 - 9:48am

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder which causes women to produce higher levels of the hormone testosterone than normal. This hormonal imbalance can result in facial hair growth, acne, menstrual cycle irregularities, infertility, and metabolic-related issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol [1]. According to the Office on Women’s Health, PCOS may affect as many as 1 in 10 women of childbearing age [2]. 

Traditionally, women are treated with oral contraceptives containing the synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, or compounds known to block testosterone production.  However, these approaches may not be suitable for women, especially those pursuing pregnancy.  A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that resveratrol, a chemical compound found in red wine, may be effective at reducing testosterone levels in women with PCOS [3]. 

The study analyzed the hormonal and metabolic profiles of women who were given resveratrol or a placebo pill for three months. The study authors found that the women who took resveratrol had a significant decrease in testosterone and dehydroepiandroesterone, a molecule from which sex hormones are derived from. These results indicate that resveratrol may be a possible treatment for PCOS due to its testosterone-lowering properties. However, the present study only had a small number of participants, and additional clinical trials would be necessary to confirm its therapeutic potential. 

For more information on PCOS, the National Institutes of Health has compiled an excellent list of resources which can be found here: NIH - PCOS.    

If you have been diagnosed with PCOS and are interested in participating in clinical research, click here for more information. 


1. UptoDate: “Epidemiology and pathogenesis of the polycystic ovary syndrome in adults.”
2. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
3. Banaszewska et al., J Clin Endo Metab. 2016: Epub ahead of print. 

Posted by on September 22, 2016 - 3:18pm

A recent study conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that testosterone may play a protective key role against knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Using an animal model, the study analyzed how different levels of testosterone affect load-bearing and ligament strain. The authors found that testosterone contributes to ACL strength in males, which may suggest why ACL injury is two to 10 times more common in women.

Previously, the study author, William Romani, Ph.D., identified the correlation between high levels of circulating estrogen and weakened ACL strength in a female animal model (2). Estrogen may contribute to higher ACL injury rates due to its ability to remodel the ligament tissue and weaken the overall structure of the ligament (3). Together, this work suggests that sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, exert different effects on ligament strain and stress and may explain why women have a higher rate of total knee replacement than men (4). 

In the future, the findings of this study may allow physicians, physical therapists, and athletic trainers to work together to observe cycling hormone levels to identify those who may be at greater risk of injury and could benefit from targeted strength training as a preventative measure (either in individuals with higher than normal levels of estradiol or lower than normal levels of testosterone) (1).

1. Romani et al., The Knee. 2016. Epub ahead of print.
2. Romani et al., J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2003 Apr;12(3):287-98.
3. Liu et al., Am J Sports Med. 1997;25(5):704-9.
4. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control

Posted by on September 16, 2016 - 5:48pm

Over the last several years, the term traumatic brain injury (TBI), has become commonplace, as evidence mounts that some of America’s favorite contact sports may cause severe and lasting brain injuries. TBIs occur when the brain is jolted by an external force which results in damage to the brain in surrounding tissue. However, TBI is not limited to the football field, instead motor vehicle accidents and falls are the leading cause for this type of neurological injury [1]. TBIs can range from mild to severe resulting in a brief period of disorientation (also known as a concussion), to complete loss of consciousness.

While men make up the majority of patients who are diagnosed with TBI, research suggests that women may experience TBI differently than men. Several studies have found that women may have more post-concussive symptoms, such as dizziness and headache, after a mild TBI as compared to men [2,3]. Additionally, women may have different post-concussive symptoms depending on their menstrual cycle stage at time of injury [4]. Furthermore, a post-concussive symptom of TBI may be menstrual cycle irregularity or amenorrhea [5]. More research is necessary to fully uncover the sex differences and sex-specific outcomes of TBI as it pertains to women's health. 

For additional information:   
Center for Disease Control
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


  1. Centers for Disease Control
  2. Bazarian et al., J Neurotrauma. 2010; 27(3):527-39. 
  3. Colantonio et al., BMC Neurol. 2010 Oct 28;10:102.
  4. Wunderle et al., J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2014 Sep-Oct; 29(5):E1-8.
  5. Ranganathan et al., Brain Inj. 2016 Mar 10:1-10.
Posted by on August 16, 2016 - 7:07am

By Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD

Academic conferences and symposia provide scientists with the opportunity to learn about the most cutting edge research, establish professional networks and collaboration, and foster the exchange of ideas among colleagues. But for those invited to speak at a conference, it can provide the additional benefit of increased visibility and professional recognition within one’s field. However, for female scientists their invitation to present might have gotten “lost in the mail.”

A new study published in the journal, PloS One, analyzed the ratio of female to male speakers at conferences held by two scientific societies between the years 1999 and 2015 [1]. The authors found that neither the number of female presenters nor female symposia organizers increased significantly over time.

Lead author of the study, Stephanie Sardelis found this to be alarming, “We expected there to be more opportunity for women to excel…especially since both societies have been improving their gender policies,” she says.

Unfortunately, these results are not surprising. Several other studies have shown that women are underrepresented at academic symposia [2,3], and when women are given the chance to present, they speak for less time compared to their male peers [4]. In an attempt to mitigate gender bias at academic conferences the solution seems all too simple: Invite more women! Specifically, invite more women to be symposia organizers.  Sardelis and her colleague, Dr. Joshua Drew, found that when the number of female symposia organizers increased, so did the number of female presenters.  This suggests that women may be more attuned to gender bias and in turn, encourage the promotion of their female colleagues at conferences or symposia.

In addition to increasing the number of female conference organizers, Sardelis and her colleague suggest that scientific societies provide adequate travel funds, child-friendly facilities, and enforce a strict Code of Conduct that includes zero-tolerance for abuse towards women, minorities, and differently abled attendees.

Sardelis believes that gender bias at conferences is indicative of a more systemic problem harbored by academia as a culture. “To reduce the gender gap, all scientists must eliminate the misconception that women are less competent than their male colleagues,” she shares.

Yet, Sardelis remains confident that steps are being taken in the right direction after attending a recent conference citing numerous female speakers, gender neutral bathrooms and nursing rooms, along with a focus group dedicated to women at scientific conferences. “[This] was a testament to the fact that gender disparity is a serious issue, but one that is being (albeit slowly) targeted by the scientific community,” she says.

Let’s hope the scientific community can pick up the pace.  



  1. Sardelis and Drew, PLoS One. 2016; 11(7):e0160015.
  2. Casadevall and Handelsman, mBio. 2014; 5(1):e00846-13.
  3. Schroeder et al., J Evol Biol. 2013; 26(9):2063-2069. 
  4. Jones et al., PeerJ. 2014; 2:e627.