Posted by on March 26, 2013 - 12:28pm
Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD

An amendment to increase biomedical research at the National Institute of Health(NIH) passed by unanimous consent on March 22.  The Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern applauds the introduction of a bipartisan amendment by our own Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and others to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the FY 2014 Budget Resolution  We are grateful to have champions that recognize the extraordinary medical advancements made possible by NIH and its role as an economic engine, creating jobs and supporting economic activity across the nation.

Our Institute Director Teresa Woodruff and her work was cited in Senator Durbin's official remarks supporting the amendment:

"Insufficient funding and cuts to NIH will force the agency to not award some grants. And it may need to reduce awards that have already been announced. Research and clinical trials that have already started are less likely to be given funding to continue, so promising projects will be terminated, suspended or forced to lay off workers.  I would like to share the story of Dr. Teresa Woodruff, a researcher and professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Woodruff is leading one of the first major studies on the impact of superfund environmental toxins on reproductive health. Her work could help us understand the health risks of certain chemicals and how pollutants enter the human body. The Monday after sequestration took effect, Dr. Woodruff was delighted to learn that the NIH had awarded funding for her research, but disappointed to learn that--due to sequestration--the grant was cut by more than half.

Dr. Woodruff is thankful for the NIH funding, but this cut means she will have to drop key parts of her research, like studying the impact of toxins on men and children and how pollutants end up in the food we eat. Because of the drastic cut in funding, Dr. Woodruff will not hire new people and will have fewer training slots to teach the next generation of scientists. Dr. Woodruff's experience is being played out across the country as promising researchers are forced to stall clinical trials and lay off support staff."

According to the United for Medical Research, the NIH’s budget has already suffered a 20 percent decline in the last decade,  and the devastating impact of the March 1st sequester, which could lead to the loss of more than 20,000 jobs and $3 billion in economic activity, has already begun to be felt. Morale among the best and brightest scientific talent is already alarmingly low, even as they stand on the brink of unprecedented scientific opportunity, and we are in real danger of losing an entire generation of medical innovators. It is critical that we restore the $1.5 billion from the NIH’s budget so we our nation can be a leader in medical advancement.



Posted by on September 25, 2012 - 9:31am

Have you ever wanted to know more about where your tax dollars are going when they are allocated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or what particular women’s health research is being carried out by the federal agency? Enter, the new NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT). This “one stop shop” allows users to access data, analyses and reports on NIH activities, including the agencies expenditures and research results.

Perhaps a woman wanted to know more about the amount of funding that was put towards a particular research field or disease. The  NIH RePORT website (using the Categorical Spending tab) now links directly to an easy to understand table showing how much money was spent in each fiscal year, with and without the Recovery Act monies. More impressive, is that the funding level for each item can further be broken down by specific initiative if the user clicks on each category’s fiscal year total. The table reports historical data for fiscal years 2008-2011, and estimates for 2012-2013 based on Research, Condition and Disease Category actual data.

This particular tool was a recent US Health and Human Services Innovates Program winner and is a creative and important way to interact with the NIH and learn more about current and future directions in women’s health initiatives.

Posted by on March 31, 2010 - 1:39pm

“By not studying sex differences, researchers could be missing out on potential new treatments for both men and women”,  says Rhonda Voskuhl.  Finally, Science Magazine is speaking our language!  I felt like I was reviewing talking points from one of my own presentations when reading the NewsFocus article titled, “Of Mice and Women: The Bias in Animal Models”  Unfortunately, it is no surprise to us at the Institute for Women’s Health Research that basic scientists are not designing studies that include both male and female animal models.  One reason our Institute was established was to break down this barrier by providing funding to the NU research community to design studies with sex and gender in mind, in addition to stressing the importance of analyzing results based on sex.

You might be asking, it’s 2010, why would researchers only study one sex?  Cost and ease.  It’s cheaper to house less animals in a research facility, the NIH may not provide enough funds to conduct studies in both sexes, researchers don’t want to deal with the estrous cycle (which in rodents is every 4 days) and the data is “cleaner” because the hormones responsible for the estrous cycle DUE effect biology.

A few important points this article highlights:

  • The vast majority of journal articles published in 2009 reported results of research in male animals only.
  • Many articles fail to report the sex of subjects at all.
  • In studies that include both males and females, 2/3 fail to analyze the results based on sex.

The results from animal studies in basic science laboratories are what help determine the design of clinical research studies in humans.  If we don’t include female animals from the start, then male-only data is what gets transferred into the clinical arena.  Then, there is the issue of recruiting equal numbers of men and women into clinical trials.  If trials are predominantly made up of male participants then once again, the results that get published and become the foundation for drug and medical device development are applicable in men, but may not (and often times do not) apply to women.

What suggestions are provided in the article?

  • If the NIH set guidelines to channel limited resources to areas that show clear sex differences such as cardiovascular disease or pain, researchers would have to include both sexes in order to get money.
  • Mining NIH data from large patient trials could help identify sex differences in people that would be worth studying in animals.
  • The Office for Research on Women’s Health could provide targeted funding opportunities.
  • Pressure from academic journals to adopt a set of guidelines for studies using animals, including the expectation to provide rationale for studying only one sex and the implications for not studying the other, could force authors go back to the drawing board.

We hope that articles similar to this will continue to be published in high impact journals and finally “get scientists thinking about the issue of sex bias” and its implications for how we practice medicine today.