Sex Bias in Hearing Loss Studies

In our daily life, we are exposed to a variety of sounds from conversations in the workplace, to music on the radio, or the hum of traffic during our commute. Typically, these sounds are at a safe level for our hearing health. However, repeated exposure to loud noises from heavy machinery or using headphones at a high volume can lead to noise-induced hearing loss.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 40 million Americans between the ages of 20 - 69 suffer from noise induced hearing loss. Men are 2 to 5 times more likely to experience hearing loss than women, but this may be a direct result of gender differences in occupational noise exposure, where men are more likely to work in noisy environments like the military, industry, farming, or aviation [1-3]. This does not exclude the possibility that sex could also impact noise-induced hearing loss on a biological level.

A recent study published in the journal Noise & Health found that a sex bias exists in basic and preclinical research which examines noise-induced hearing loss. The authors reviewed 210 studies on noise-induced hearing loss and found that of the 154 studies (73%) which reported the sex of the animal, the majority (61%) used only male animals. Looking across the 5-year study period, sex bias worsened over time with male-only studies increasing from 37% in 2011 to 56% in 2015.

The authors suggest that sex inclusion in noise-induced hearing loss research is essential to improving hearing health and highlight opportunities where sex as a biological variable can be considered.

To learn more about sex inclusion in biomedical research visit sexinclusion.northwestern.edu.

For more information on hearing health, check out our newsletter on the topic!

References:
1. Lin et al., J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011 May; 66A(5): 582–590.
2. Lie et al., Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2016; 89: 351–372.
3. West et al.,  Ear Hear. 2016;37(2):194-205.
4. Lauer and Schrode. Noise Health. 2017;19(90):207-212.

 

National Institutes of Health Seeks Feedback on Women’s Health Research

The National Institutes of Health as issued a Request for Information (RFI) regarding the Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Research on Women’s Health. The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) seeks input and suggestions from members of the basic, clinical, and translational research community as well as from advocacy and patient groups.

Specifically, the ORWH has asked for comments in the following areas:

  • What are some ways that the scope of each theme [Expand the Exploration of Sex as a Biological Variable (SABV) in NIH Research, A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Science of Women's Health, and Quality of Life and Disease Burden over the Life-Course] might be expanded or more narrowly focused to address the most important areas in research on women’s health?
  • What topics would you recommend adding to the list of cross-cutting themes for research on women’s health?
  • What big idea or audacious goal to improve women's health should be pursued by the NIH?

Responses to the RFI must be less than 300 words and submitted by November, 11th 2017. To submit a response to the RFI click here.

To access the entire RFI and learn more about the Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Research on Women’s Health, click here.  

CIHR Announces Sex-Based Funding Opportunity

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research announced that they will be accepting proposals for the Sex as a Variable in Biomedical Research Catalyst Grant. These grants will support novel research which includes sex as a biological variable in the following research areas:

  • Gender and Health
  • Aging 
  • Cancer Research
  • Circulatory and Respiratory Health 
  • Infection and Immunity 
  • Musculoskeletal Health

Applicants are encouraged to explore the role of sex in health and disease and/or develop new methods to study sex differences in biomedical research.

For more information on grant eligibility and guidelines, click here.

Upcoming Events for Chicago Women in STEMM

This fall, there are a lot of great events planned for women in STEMM throughout the Chicagoland area. To help you keep track, we've compiled a list of 5 upcoming events in September and October!

1. Women in Science Conference
When: September 18th – 19th
Where: Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. St. Louis Avenue, Chicago, IL
Sponsor/Host: Northeastern Illinois University and the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative

Northeastern Illinois University and the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative are hosting a Women in Science Conference in honor of the 150th anniversary of Marie Curie's birth and the 150th anniversary of Northeastern Illinois University. The two-day event will feature a series of lectures, discussions, and a screening of the film "Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge."

The event is free and open to the public. Registration and additional information can be found here

2. Gender Divide in Healthcare Professions
When: September 27th
Where: Rosalind Franklin University, 3333 Green Bay Road, North Chicago, IL
Sponsor/Host: Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science is hosting a day-long workshop to address gender barriers in healthcare fields. The event will feature interactive lectures and discussions.

The event is free and open to the public. CME credits are available. Registration and additional information can be found here.

3. Chicago Women in Bio – Third Annual Start-Up Challenge
When: September 28th, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
Where: MATTER, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza (12th Floor), Chicago, IL
Sponsor/Host: Chicago Chapter for Women in Bio

The Chicago Chapter of Women in Bo is hosting their third annual Start-up Challenge which features finalists from women-led biotech companies. Participants will be able to network with local entrepreneurs and other women in STEM.

The event costs $15 for Women in Bio members and $45 for non-members. Click here to register. 

4. Coffee and Conversations at Northwestern University
When: October 18th and 26th
Where: Chicago and Evanston Campuses
Sponsor/Host: Women's Health Research Institute

Throughout the upcoming year, the WHRI will host several events for Northwestern University women in STEM. The events will feature engaging discussions with members of the Northwestern Community and provide networking and community-building opportunities.

The event is free and open to all NU students, post-docs, faculty, and staff. Registration for the events can be found below:
Coffee and Conversation with Dr. Jindan Yu (Chicago Campus) - October 18th, 3:30 - 4:30 PM Lurie Research Building, Searle Seminar Room
Coffee and Conversation with Dr. Yarrow Axford (Evanston Campus) - October 26th, 3:30 - 4:30 PM Tech, Cohen Commons Dining Room 

5. Insight to Innovation: Women in STEM Leadership Conference
When: October 27th Where: University of Chicago, Harper Court Conference Center, 1525 E. 53rd St., Chicago, IL
Sponsor/Host: University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is hosting a day-long conference for women in STEM who are interested in exploring innovation opportunities for their research.

Female students, post-docs, and faculty are encouraged to apply. The application deadline is September 15th. Additional information can be found here

Scientific American’s Spotlight on Sex- and Gender-Based Research

One of the country's most popular and long-standing science magazines, Scientific American, is dedicating an entire issue to the topic of sex and gender. The September issue, which is currently available on newsstands and on-line, features various articles on gender myths, biological determinants of sex, and the importance of sex- and gender-based research.

Prominently featured on the cover is the saying, "It's Not a Woman's Issue: Everybody has a stake in the new science of sex and gender." While longtime supporters of the WHRI may argue that the science of sex and gender is not exactly new, the dialogue this issue creates is profound.

In an introductory piece, the editors of the magazine echo our sentiments stating, "More energy must be devoted as well to researching how diseases affect the sexes differently—and to adapting medical treatments to women's needs [1]." The WHRI applauds Scientific American for promoting sex- and gender-inclusive research and encourages investigators to heed this call to action!

References:
1. "This is Not a Women's Issue." Scientific American. Sept. 2017: 30-31.

California Leading the Way in Preventing Maternal Deaths

In the last two decades, the US has seen a rise in the number of women dying from childbirth, an opposing trend from the majority of other countries in the developed and developing world who have seen their numbers decline.

While the US has not released an official rate since 2007, a recent study reports that the number of maternal deaths, defined as occurring during pregnancy or within 42 days of birth, has increased from 19 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 24 per 100,000 in 2014, an increase of over 25%. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that a majority of these deaths are preventable.

As a response to this trend, concerned medical professionals in California formed the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC) in hopes of preventing maternal deaths. The CMQCC first gathered data to determine the most common causes of maternal death, which informed the development of training programs and guidelines attempting to address those causes.

One of the leading causes of maternal death found in the CMQCC's research was hemorrhage, which led them to develop a program to help doctors decrease the number of medically unnecessary C-sections they perform. C-sections can sometimes lead to hemorrhage, especially in mothers who have undergone the procedure before. Aspects of this program include step-by-step guidelines on how to prepare for and directly treat hemorrhage as well as how to effectively measure blood-loss.

CMQCC programs, like the one addressing hemorrhage, have been implemented across the state, garnering impressive results. As a result of these efforts, the maternal death rate in California was cut in half between 2006 and 2013, falling to 7.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, a third of the nation-wide rate reported the next year. These results are even evident in underserved areas of the state that see the women most vulnerable to maternal death.

To read more about the maternal death rate in California and the US, explore the references below:

About the author: 
Madison Lyleroehr earned her M.A. degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, where she focused on Sociology and qualitative research methods. She is currently a Research Study Coordinator in the Feinberg School of Medicine's department of Medical Social Sciences where she oversees studies focused primarily on patient-reported outcomes. Her passion for women's health has driven her various volunteer and advocacy efforts, addressing issues in reproductive health, sexual health and education, and sexual violence prevention.

Women Are Taking Strides Towards Healthy Living

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control found that women are more likely to use walking as a form of leisure, exercise, or transportation, compared to men [1]. The study analyzed survey data from 75,000 individuals across the United States between the years 2005 and 2015. They found that while the number of both male and female walkers significantly increased between 2005 and 2015, women were outpacing men by several percentage points.

Walking is an excellent way to stay in shape, as it is one of the safest, convenient, and affordable forms of physical activity. The study authors suggest that walking should be encouraged, especially amongst women, since only 47% of women in the U.S. meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity [2].

With the surge of new health technologies such as wearable fitness trackers or mobile phones with built-in health apps, it is incredibly easy to track physical activity. Some reports suggest that aiming for 10,000 steps a day is ideal, although that may change based on your age and health status [3-4]. So, get walking! 

For more tips on how to incorporate walking into your daily routine, visit the following resources:

References:
1. Ussery et al., MMWR. 2017; 66(25);657–662.
2. Center for Disease Control 
3. Tudor-Locke & Bassett. Sports Med. 2004;34(1):1-8.
4. Schneider et al., Am J Health Promot. 2006;21(2):85-9.

Mind the Gender Gap in Academic Medicine

Women account for almost half of all medical school graduates in the United States, yet they lag behind men in the higher ranks of academic medicine and in leadership roles, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This disparity increases even more so for women of color who represent 11% of full-time faculty and 3% of department chairs [1].

Stanford University recently published an article in their Spring issue of Stanford Medicine entitled, "Pursuing Parity," which highlights the barriers female faculty members have faced throughout their careers such as gender bias in recruitment and promotion practices and managing the stresses of work-life balance [2]. The article on female faculty was just one part in a larger series focused on the issue of sex, gender, and medicine.

Meanwhile, Northwestern University faculty have also been vocal in bringing attention to gender disparities in academic medicine. Last year, NU faculty members Drs. Angira Patel and Sarah Bauer penned an article which encourages female physicians to stand by their career and family choices and advocates for an open dialogue about the inequities that exist for women in medicine [3]. Both articles stress the importance of policies which support transparency, limit unconscious or implicit bias, and foster an inclusive culture and climate.

For further reading you may be interested in the following:

  • Quota of Four – A historical perspective surrounding the first female graduates of Northwestern's medical school, penned by NU alum and science writer, Megan Thielking. 
  • Letter to a Young Female Physician – An perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by Dr. Suzanne Koven, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

The Women's Health Research Institute promotes the inclusion and advancement of women in science and medicine. The Institute has established several programs to promote the next generation of women in the basic and health sciences and to address the "leaky pipeline" in academia. More information on these programs can be found below:

References:
1. Association of American Medical Colleges, Analysis In Brief. 2016; 16(4).
2. Zonana, K. Pursuing Parity, Stanford Medicine. 2017; 34(2). 26-31, 44-45.
3. Patel and Bauer. Pulled by different forces, women in medicine need to stand by their career and family choices, Stat News. 2016.

Global Obesity Rates Higher in Women

Over the last several decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of overweight and obese individuals both in the United States and abroad. The obesity epidemic has affected all segments of the population, adults and children alike, causing major public health concern. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined the prevalence of obesity in 176 countries and found that obesity rates were higher among adult women across the globe, regardless of educational or socioeconomic status [1]. This indicates that women are disproportionally affected in the obesity epidemic on a global scale and could suggest that women are more likely to suffer poor-health outcomes compared to men.

The authors estimate that in 2015 alone, 4 million people across the globe died from obesity-related causes such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. Interestingly, they did not report a sex difference in death or disability rates from obesity-related causes. Even-so, their results indicate a need for better education, programing, and research related to the prevention of obesity, with an emphasis on the influence of sex and gender.

To read more from the WHRI on the topic of obesity: 

 

Reference:
1. GBD 2015 Obesity Collaborators et al. N Engl J Med. 2017; 377(1):13-27.

Generating STEAM for Reproductive Science

On Saturday, June 24th the Women’s Health Research Institute hosted its annual Women’s’ Health Science Program (WHSP) for Chicago Public High School students. This year’s theme, “Reproductive Science Saturday,” introduced students to the fields of reproductive science and medicine through interactive lectures and hands-on laboratory experiences led by Northwestern University students, faculty, and staff.

Previous WHSP programs have emphasized the interconnectedness between the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. New in 2017, the WHSP program added an art component to its traditional STEM focus. “Over the last several years there has been a strong movement to incorporate the arts into STEM education, also known as STEAM. We know that STEM and the arts are often influenced by one another, but that connection runs deeper as the arts can be used as a tool to teach or communicate science,” says Dr. Nicole Woitowich, the WHRI Director of Science Outreach and Education.

WHSP students participated in a STEAM project created by Master’s of Science in Reproductive Science and Medicine student, Megan Runge. Students learned about the hormonal and cellular changes that take place throughout the menstrual cycle and were asked to depict them using canvas, glue, paper, and gemstones. Students created colorful flowers which also serve as a “menstrual cycle clock,” that allows them to keep track of their cycle and reminds them of the physiological changes that take place within the ovary.

“This type of activity engages students in the reproductive sciences, in a way that isn’t traditionally utilized,” Woitowich states. Thrilled with the success of the project, she hopes that the arts continue to remain a part of the WHSP program, “As with any STEM field, we rely on our creativity to generate ideas or solve problems, so it’s important to foster those skills together and early-on.”

For more details on how to create your own menstrual cycle clock or how to incorporate this activity into a classroom, please contact the WHRI at womenshealthresearch@northwestern.edu.

Women Face Poorer Outcomes After Burn Injury

Accidental burns are one of the most common household injuries, often arising from exposure to hot surfaces or liquids. Yet, burns can also be caused by exposure to certain chemicals, electricity, sunlight, or fire. While the majority of accidental burns are minor, and can be treated at home – some burns require immediate medical treatment.

Types of Burns
Burns vary in severity depending on how many layers of skin are damaged. For example: 

  • First degree burns affect only the top layer of skin, known as the epidermis.
  • Second degree burns extend partially into the dermis.
  • Third degree burns damage the entire dermal layer.
  • Fourth degree burns extend beyond the skin into the fat, muscle, and bone.

In addition, the amount of skin, or total surface area, damaged by a burn can also impact its severity.

Sex Differences in Burn Prevalence and Treatment Outcomes
According to the American Burn Association, burn injuries are more common in men than women (68% vs. 32%, respectively). However, a recent study published in the journal Burns & Trauma, found that women are less likely to survive from a serve burn injury compared to men [1]. The authors examined the medical records of over 300 patients admitted to a hospital burn unit with similar burn severity and total amount of skin affected. They found that women were two times more likely to die from a burn injury, compared to men of the same age. Systemic infections, such as sepsis, are a leading cause of death following a severe burn injury. The authors suggest that sex differences in immune response following a severe burn could differ between men and women, but caution that additional research is needed to support their clinical observations.  

For more information on burn injuries consider visiting the following resources:
National Library of Medicine
American Burn Association
Centers for Disease Control – Burn Prevention

Reference:
Karimi et al., Burns Trauma. 2017;5:18. doi: 10.1186/s41038-017-0083-y. eCollection 2017.