BETHESDA, MD. — The next decade worth of research in women's health should focus on increasing understanding of the role of sex factors in differential disease risk, vulnerability, progression, and outcomes, as well as the effects of being female on health, according to the strategic plan for the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health.
“We need to continue the research that will help us better understand the health of women and of men,” said Dr. Vivian W. Pinn, director of the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH). “We need to continue to expand the scientific base and make sure we have better … and more effective ways of communicating the results of that research to women as well as to health care providers so that they have the benefits of that research.”
The plan, “A Vision for 2020 for Women's Health Research: Moving Into the Future With New Dimensions and Strategies,” was unveiled at a meeting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the creation of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health.
The strategic plan, the third agenda-setting report produced by ORWH over the past 20 years, specifies six goals:
▸ Increase sex differences research in basic science studies.
▸ Incorporate findings of sex/gender differences in the design and application of new technologies, medical devices, and therapeutic drugs.
▸ Actualize personalized prevention, diagnostics, and therapeutics for girls and women.
▸ Create strategic alliances and partnerships to maximize the domestic and global impact of women's health research.
▸ Develop and implement new communication and social networking technologies to increase understanding and appreciation of women's health and wellness research.
▸ Employ innovative strategies to build a well-trained, diverse, and vigorous women's health research workforce.
Despite better understanding of certain diseases, little progress has been made in addressing debilitating conditions such as autoimmune diseases, addiction, lung cancer, and dementia, according to a recent Institute of Medicine committee report. There are still health disparities among different groups of women, and the impact of social and behavioral factors on women's health is not yet well-understood, according to the IOM report.
According to the ORWH strategic plan, research going forward must reach into a number of different areas.
“Sex differences research is needed not only in fields such as endocrinology and immunology, but also in rapidly evolving areas such as epigenetics, systems biology, and neuroscience; and new technology–enabled fields such as genomic, proteomics and metabolomics,” the plan points out.
And there still remains a disconnection between research and the literature available to health care providers, Dr. Pinn said.
“There has been great variation in the receptivity of different professional and scientific journals in addressing sex differences or accepting results of sex difference analyses or believing they're important,” she said. “That's something that leaves me very concerned. We don't have the power to change it. We just have to make pleas.”
The ORWH strategic plan calls for partnerships across NIH, academia, and the advocacy and public policy groups for a better understanding of women's health research.
Women's health goes beyond just women, Dr. Pinn said. “We don't see women's health research as for being just for women but really for the broader community.”