Posted by on February 3, 2020 - 9:56am

The Women's Health Research Institute hosted its 4th Annual Women’s Health Research Day Celebration on Friday, January 24th, 2020. This event celebrates the anniversary of the NIH policy requiring investigators to consider sex as a biological variable which was established on January 25th, 2016.

The Women’s Health Research Institute has celebrated this date as a watershed moment within the biomedical research community and championed for January 25th to be recognized as “Women’s Health Research Day,” by Congress.

WHRD 2020 Panel Discussion

Photo: Drs. Renee Manworren (left), Talia Lerner (center), and Jefferey Mogil (right) participate in a panel discussion on "Sex, Gender, and the Opioid Crisis." 

This year, the event focused on “Sex, Gender, and the Opioid Crisis,” and featured a panel discussion with Talia Lerner, PhD, and Renee Manworren, PhD, APRN, FAAN, a plenary lecture by Juliet Sorensen, JD, and a keynote lecture by Jeffery Mogil, PhD

In addition, State Senator Robert Peters (D-13th) joined the celebration and shared his support for women’s health research and its role in health equity.

State Sen. Robert Peters at WHRD 2020

Photo: Illinois State Senator Robert Peters speaks at the 4th Annual Women's Health Research Day Celebration. 

Thank you to all who attended this event – we look forward to seeing you next year on Monday, January 25th, 2021!

Posted by on February 3, 2020 - 9:20am

The Women's Health Research Institute is pleased to announce the recipients for the 2020 Shaw Family Pioneer Awards.

This year's awardees include:
Erin Hsu, PhD, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery for her project, "Elucidating sex-based differences in bone regenerative response for spinal fusion," and Steven Schwultz, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery (Trauma and Critical Care) for his project, "Sex Influences on the Microglia Response to Traumatic Brain Injury."

Congratulations Drs. Hsu and Schwultz!

Established in 2018, the Shaw Family Pioneer Awards provide support for Northwestern University investigators who conduct or are interested in pursuing sex-based research. The awards also enable early-career investigators to conduct pilot studies that will help build their portfolio and enhance their ability to compete for larger federal grants.

Posted by on May 31, 2019 - 1:18pm

For Northside College Prep senior, Jennifer Tegegne, women's health has always been an area of educational and personal interest. Prior to moving to Chicago, Tegegne and her family lived abroad in Ethiopia and Kenya where she witnessed health disparities first hand, prompting her desire to pursue a career in healthcare. "I saw that women's health was often times neglected in developing countries and [now I] hope to work in increasing accessibility and advancement in the field," she states.

Participating in the Women's Health Science Program at Northwestern University seemed like a natural fit for Tegegne, who is also a member of the Northside College Prep Medical Club and Science Olympiad Team. "It was very exciting to find a program that helps girls like me to succeed in the male-dominated field of medicine," Tegegne shares. 

WHSP Alumna Jennifer Tegegne (second from right) with Director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff (far left), fellow WHSP students, and Northwestern University graduate students.

For the past decade, the Women's Health Science Program has fostered the next generation of female leaders in science and medicine. Students who are selected to participate in the Women's Health Science Program are exposed to a variety of hands-on laboratory and clinical experiences within the Feinberg School of Medicine. Led by Dr. Teresa Woodruff, the program has over 200 alumnae, more than 70% of whom have gone on to pursue a STEM-based degree.

Like many of her fellow "Science Sisters," Tegegne will continue her education in the biomedical sciences. This fall, she plans to attend Yale University and major in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. She credits the Women's Health Science Program as a transformative experience, "...[It] was hands-on, pre-professional and in a more mature setting. It helped me start a path necessary to partaking in research in college." 

"Taking part in WHSP definitely changed my perception of scientific inquiry," she continues, "it is now more clear that researchers are very essential to medical development in our changing world."

In addition, Tegegne was inspired by Northwestern students, faculty, and fellow participants. "I enjoyed meeting amazing and accomplished professionals in addition to my fellow Science Sisters who were brilliant and driven. I was able to talk to the head of the Feinberg anatomy lab and a researcher who was pursuing an MD/PhD. I got to learn more about different professions and got advice on being pre-med."

She encourages others to participate in the program not only because of its "welcoming and exciting," environment but because of the potential impact it can have on students. "I hope that this program is able to reach many young women because there is a dire need for more equitable Science education."

Applications for the Women's Health Science Program Class of 2019 will be accepted until Friday, June 7th. To learn more please visit

Posted by on May 31, 2019 - 8:45am

On Tuesday, May 21st the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Women's Health Research Institute co-hosted the Symposium on Interpersonal Violence at Northwestern University. Led by Dr. Traci Kurtzer (pictured, right), who serves as the Medical Director for Trauma Informed Care and Education, the symposium attracted a multidisciplinary audience of physicians, trainees, social workers, policymakers, and allied health professionals.

Marlita White (pictured, left), the Director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Behavioral Health at the Chicago Department of Public Health kicked off the afternoon with an engaging lecture on the impact of trauma on the health of women and girls in the city of Chicago. In addition, the symposium featured lectures on intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and updates to Illinois law regarding sexual assault.

To learn more about the topics presented, please consider visiting the following resources:

Chicago Department of Public Health – Violence Prevention
Erase Trafficking Clinic
Between Friends Chicago

Posted by on February 12, 2019 - 9:58pm

Women over age 55 face some increased health risks, including the risk of bone and muscle loss. There are therapies to help reduce these risks, and a recent study has found that a specific hormone, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), may help increase muscle mass and prevent bone loss in older women. However, these results were not found among older men.

The study, published in Clinical Endocrinology, consisted of researchers analyzing data from four separate randomized clinical trials, all double-blinded and placebo-controlled. The studies were designed to identify the effects on bone composition and bone mineral density of administering oral DHEA to raise levels in men and women ages 55 to 85 to those found in young adults. This is because bone and muscle mass loss is a result, in part, of decreased androgen and estrogen hormone production as adults get older. Therefore, researchers hypothesized that increasing DHEA hormone levels may help offset bone and muscle mass loss.

After comparing the four studies, researchers found improved bone mineral density in women’s lumbar spine, total hip, and trochanter, but not in men’s. However, among men, they found a statistically significant decrease in fat mass. One downside of the study is that none of the trials specifically targeted women with osteoporosis, which may have impacted the results. The researchers have indicated that further studies with women who already have osteoporosis, and examining long-term therapy may be beneficial to gather more information on to how to use this therapy to help both aging men and women.


Jankowski, C.M. et al. Sex‐specific effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on bone mineral density and body composition: A pooled analysis of four clinical trials. Clinical Endocrinology, 2018; 90(2) 293-300.

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. (2018, December 4). Sex-specific effects of DHEA on bone mineral density and body composition: Among older women, the naturally occurring hormone DHEA may preserve bone and muscle mass when compared with placebo, study suggests. ScienceDaily.

Posted by on January 29, 2019 - 1:46pm

The Women's Health Research Institute is pleased to announce the recipients for the 2019 Shaw Family Pioneer Awards. This year, awardees include:

Matthew J. Major, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for his project "Characterizing the gait biomechanics of women with leg amputation for improving evidence-based rehabilitation practice,"andBria Coates, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics (Critical Care) for her project, "Impact of sex and NOD-like receptor activation in prepubertal influenza A virus infection."Shaw Family Pioneer Award 2019

Matthew Major receives the Shaw Family Pioneer Award at the 3rd Annual Celebration for Sex Inclusive Science on January 25th, 2019. Pictured (Left to Right): WHRI Co-Director Marla Mendelson, MD, WHRI Founder and Co-Director Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD, Matthew Major, PhD, Robert Shaw ('70 , '81), and Charlene Shaw ('70). Photo courtesy of R. J. Garrick, PhD, NUPOC. 

Established in 2018, the Shaw Family Pioneer Awards provide support for Northwestern University investigators who conduct or are interested in pursuing sex-based research. The awards also enable early-career investigators to conduct pilot studies that will help build their portfolio and enhance their ability to compete for larger federal grants. 

Posted by on November 29, 2018 - 10:57am

On Tuesday, November 20th, 8 members from the Women's Health Science Program Class of 2018 came to Northwestern University for an afternoon visit focused on careers in medicine.

The students started their visit with a trip to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab  (SRAL) to learn about Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation from Dr. Leslie Rydberg, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. They had the opportunity to tour some of the facilities at SRAL to get a better understanding of the integrated approach to research, medicine, and rehabilitation.

WHSP Students Meet Dr. Leslie Rydberg at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab  

Next, students attended a special monthly Women’s Health Research forum featuring Dr. Suzanne Harrison, Professor of Family Medicine & Rural Health and Director of Clinical Programs from Florida State University College of Medicine. Dr. Harrison, who is also the immediate-past president of the American Medical Women’s Association met with WHSP students over lunch, alongside several Northwestern University medical students. Students had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Harrison about her work in Family Medicine as well as advocacy activities related to the promotion of women in medicine. 

WHSP and Feinberg School of Medicine Students meet with Dr. Suzanne Harrison

Later in the afternoon, students met with Dr. Shikha Jain, Northwestern Health System Clinician of Medicine (Hematology and Oncology), to discuss the subspecialty of hematology-oncology and the use of social media in medicine. Dr. Jain advised students on the appropriate use of social media as they consider their future careers, and discussed how it could be beneficial for networking.

WHSP Students Learn About Hematology-Oncology From Dr. Shikha Jain 

Lastly, Dr. Jennifer Pinkus, Assistant Professor of Pathology, organized a career panel for WHSP students showcasing a variety of careers in pathology such as pathologists,  pathology assistants, histo- and cytotechnologists, and cytogeneticists.

WHSP Students With Dr. Jenny Pinkus and Staff from the Department of Pathology 

The WHSP students look forward to their next visit to campus this spring, which will focus on the basic sciences and include a tour of the Evanston campus.

The Women’s Health Research Institute is grateful to all the faculty and staff who participated in this event and who demonstrate a commitment to the next generation of leaders in science and medicine.


To learn more about how you can support the Women’s Health Science Program, please contact Dr. Niki Woitowich at

Posted by on November 22, 2018 - 8:54am

A recent article published in JAMA Pediatrics highlights a study conducted with the intention of identifying physical activity levels of adolescents and young adults in the United States, and more specifically, breaking down and examining the activity levels by sex, income, and race/ethnicity. The findings indicate that overall, females participated in less physical activity than males, and that minority racial/ethnic groups and individuals with lower incomes were typically less physically active. [1]

The study itself was conducted from 2007 to 2016 with self-reported physical activity information collected from 9,472 adolescent and young adult participants: 4,771 males and 4,701 females. The average age of the participants was 20.6. [1] The study found that among teenagers between ages 12 and 17, around 88% of the males reported being physically active, compared to about 78% of females. However, between the ages 18 and 24, these rates drop to 73% for males, and only about 62% for females, indicating that after high school, fewer women participate in physical activity. This disparity is even greater among minority groups. For example, among female participants aged 18 to 24, around 71% of white women reported participating in any moderate or vigorous physical activity, compared to only 45% of black women. When looking at the data with regards to income, about 80% of women in the highest income bracket remained physically active after age 17, compared to between 45% to 55% of women below the poverty line. [2]

Researchers have considered reasons for these disparities and how to address them. An adolescent medicine specialist from Harvard University, Dr. Holly Gooding, was not involved in the study, but believes that socialization norms may contribute, as teen girl socialization is not often centered around physical activities, unlike with boys. She also points out that schools and communities that serve minority populations often have fewer resources such as athletic fields or safe spaces to participate in physical activity outside of school. Dr. Charlene Wong, one of the authors of the study also cited the increased use of mobile devices as contributing to decreased physical activity for all groups. Dr. Wong suggests that this study has demonstrated where to aim for improvements in physical activity in young people, and that it may be helpful to use programs in schools to develop healthy physical activity habits, especially among women, that can be carried into adulthood. [2]


[1] Armstrong, S., Wong, C.A., Perrin, E., Page, S., Sibley, L., & Skinner, A. Association of Physical Activity With Income, Race/Ethnicity, and Sex Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States: Findings From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2016. JAMA Pediatrics, 2018;172(8):732-740. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1273.

[2] Watson, S.K. After High School, Young Women's Exercise Rates Plunge. NPR. 11 June 2018.

Posted by on October 31, 2018 - 9:38pm

The Mediterranean Diet is known to have many health benefits, but a recent study published in the journal Stroke examined the impact that the diet has specifically on the risk of stroke, and whether the diet impacts the risk of stroke in men and women differently. The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes eating fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and using olive oil as the main source of fat. It also includes moderate alcohol consumption, but only small quantities of meat and dairy. [1]

The study was conducted in the United Kingdom, among a population-based group of 23,232 individuals aged 40 to 77, of whom 54.5% were women. The individuals in the study were followed for 17 years, with stroke incidence calculated and stratified by sex and risk of cardiovascular disease. To determine adherence to the Mediterranean diet, participants completed a 7-day diet diary. [1]

The findings indicate that overall, the risk of stroke among all the study participants decreased significantly with greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Interestingly, when stratified by sex, the risk of stroke among women was reduced even more, and although there was a decrease of risk of stroke among the male population, it was not significant. [1] The overall risk of stroke incidence decreased 17% among both men and women, decreased 22% among just women, and decreased only 6% among men. [2] Researchers are unsure what causes the difference in risk reduction among men and women on the Mediterranean diet, and suggest further studies to understand more clearly associations between diet and risk of stroke.


[1] Paterson, K.E., Myint, P.K., Jennings, A., Bain, L.K.M, Lentjes, M.A.H., Khaw, K.T., & Welch, A.A. Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Incident Stroke in a Population With Varying Cardiovascular Disease Risk Profiles. Stroke. 2018 Oct; 49(10): 2415–2420.

[2] Reinberg, S. Mediterranean Diet May Cut Stroke Risk for Women, But Not Men. U.S. News & World Report. 20 Sept. 2018. 

Posted by on October 31, 2018 - 1:48pm

The Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University is committed to the promotion, advancement, and retention of women in science and medicine. To this end, we have a variety of programs that support women who are interested in or currently pursuing careers in these fields.

We are thrilled to introduce our team of interns and contributors for the 2018-2019 academic year. Please join us welcoming, Mary Cormier, Janki Patel, and Sarah Henning:

Mary Cormier is a junior at Northwestern University studying Neuroscience and Anthropology. Mary is interested in studying the social determinants of health and disease. She is passionate about health equity, and is involved a student organization which provides supplementary, peer-modeled health curriculum to high school partners throughout Chicago. She will be working with Dr. Niki Woitowich to develop strategies to provide access to clinical research opportunities to under-resourced communities via the Illinois Women’s Health Registry.

Janki Patel is a Master's student in the Health Communications program at Northwestern University. She has plans to begin medical school next year at Midwestern University, ultimately aspiring to focus on women's health. She is interested in community education, specifically related to women's health and the of social determinants of health on individuals and communities. She will be working with Institute leadership to create effective, and educational communication strategies related to women’s health research. 

Sarah Henning, MPH, returns as a contributing author for the WHRI blog. Sarah first began writing for the Institute blog as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University and then took a hiatus while she pursued a degree in Master of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sarah is passionate about promoting women’s health, particularly, reproductive and mental health, and raising awareness about health disparities. In her spare time, she volunteers at a number of organizations which focus on these issues.