Posted by on February 8, 2018 - 12:02pm

One key aspect to maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle is being aware of your individual cardiovascular risk factors. We know that men and women who are overweight, have high blood pressure, smoke, are diabetic, or have increased cholesterol are more likely to develop heart disease. However, there are several cardiovascular risk factors which apply only to women. Below, we take a closer look at several female-specific risk factors:

Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy related such as gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia only affect 5-10% of pregnant women, but they may increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease later in life. According to a recent study published in the journal Hypertension, women who experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy were more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life and have a higher cardiovascular disease risk profile than women whose blood pressure remained normal throughout pregnancy [1].

The authors suggest that women who experience hypertensive disorders of pregnancy be counseled on how to recognize and reduce other modifiable risk factors.

 Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a condition which occurs during pregnancy and hinders the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. While it normally resolves after pregnancy, it may leave women with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A study which examined over 8,000 women found that those who experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy were more likely to have low HDL or “good” cholesterol and higher levels to triglycerides – both factors which can contribute to heart disease [2]. This provides yet another example of how pregnancy-related conditions may impact heart health later in life.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects women of reproductive age. In addition to causing reproductive issues such as irregular periods or infertility, women with PCOS may experience other health issues such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or metabolic syndrome. Together, these conditions can increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease.


Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life cycle which is characterized by the loss of menstrual cycles and a decrease in estrogen levels.  Post-menopausal women face a greater risk of heart disease compared to pre-menopausal women due to age and the loss of estrogen. This increased risk also extends to young women who experience premature menopause or have had their ovaries removed for surgical reasons. Even though estrogen is considered “heart-protective,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not recommend that patients use hormone replacement therapy to prevent cardiovascular disease [3].

For a review on sex-specific cardiovascular risk factors, we recommend:

“Sex differences in cardiovascular risk factors and disease prevention.”

Appelman et al., Atherosclerosis. 2015; 241 (1): 211-218.



1. Tooher et al., Hypertension. 2017; 70: 798-803.

2. Shostrom et al., Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017; 8: 144.

3. ACOG Committee on Gynecologic Practice, 2013. No. 565. 

Posted by on February 7, 2018 - 8:45am



The Women's Health Research Institute would like to highlight the work of Poonam Muttreja and her organization, Population Foundation of India (PFI). PFI is a national non-governmental organization (NGO) that centers its work on policy, advocacy and research on population, health and development issues throughout India. PFI’s work has empowered women, men and their families through numerous projects that contributes to health and well-being for all, while their work also leads to numerous positive outcomes for women. PFI uses a multipronged advocacy and communication strategy, including entertainment-based mass media programmes, online digital campaigns, and outreach amongst communities.

PFI’s position is unique as they work with the Indian government at both the national and state levels, with other NGOs and throughout urban and rural communities where they deploy successful programs leading to beneficial social and behavior change.



 Poonam Muttreja is the Executive Director of PFI and has over 35 years of experience in promoting women’s rights, rural livelihoods, public advocacy, communications and behavior change.  She conceived and promoted the popular Indian television serial, Mai Kuch bhi kar sakti hoon-I, a woman, can do anything. Poonam has been a member of the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group, which is a global movement that supports the rights of women and girls around the globe to empower them to decide for themselves whether, when and how many children they may want to have. She is currently a civil society representative from India for the FP 2020 country engagement group. Before joining PFI, Poonam worked with the McArthur Foundation as India Country director where she was responsible for the Foundation’s grants in India that focused on population and development issues. Early on in her career, she founded organizations in the area of social justice (SRUTI), craft (DASTKAR) and programing on leadership (Founder Director of the Ashoka Foundation in India) specifically focusing in the field of women’s health. She serves on the board of several non-governmental organizations. In addition to Poonam’s numerous and impressive efforts in social justice outreach and development, she has a Master’s in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

Connecting through global NGOs enabling women to do better and be healthier is an important part of our mission here at the Women's Health Research Institute. 


Posted by on February 6, 2018 - 11:36am

We invite you to read the latest MP Post from the Academy of Women's Health-an interview with Patricia M. Hayes, PhD, on "Improving the Health of Women Veterans."


Click here to read the interview 

Click here to read additional MP Post interviews

Click here to visit our website and read about the benefits of membership

Posted by on January 31, 2018 - 1:30pm
February is designated as American Heart Month, so over the next few weeks theWomen’s Health Research Institutewill join many other organizations in recognizing this important health issue. In particular, we will explore how sex and gender can influencecardiovascular health and disease through a series of blogs and social media posts related to women’s cardiovascular health.
Stay connected with the WHRI through our facebook, Twitter at @WomensHealthNU, or by signing up for our monthly newsletters!
Did you know: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, yet women are underrepresented in cardiovascular clinical trials [1]? To learn about how you can fix these research disparities click here!

Kim and Menon., Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2009 Mar;29(3):279-83.
Posted by on January 29, 2018 - 12:54pm
It’s Time to Deliver:  Including Pregnant and Lactating Women in Clinical Research
Wednesday, February 14 || 1:00pm–2:30pm ET 

Register Now

Pregnant women have frequently been excluded from or de-prioritized in clinical research, leaving them and their providers to make decisions without adequate information or guidance regarding the safety and efficacy of necessary treatments.

Treatment Action Group (TAG), the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and HIV/AIDS Network Coordination Women's HIV Research Collaborative (WHRC) invite you to join us for the first of a two-part webinar series on the inclusion of pregnant and lactating women in research.

·  Review the history of the inclusion of pregnant and lactating women as clinical research participants;
·  Explore the issues pregnant and lactating women and their providers face in diagnosing, treating, and administering safe and effective medications and interventions;
·  Discuss current restrictions and barriers to including pregnant and lactating women in research; and
·  Plan around ongoing and future opportunities for advocacy to affect change to research policy and practice.
More information, including the list of speakers, can be found below.

Posted by on January 29, 2018 - 12:48pm

We are very excited to announce the recipients of this year’s Shaw Family Pioneer Awards- Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD and Aline Martin, PhD.

The Shaw Family Pioneer Awards, provide funding for investigators conducting sex-based and sex-inclusive research. Funding enables early career investigators to conduct pilot studies that may enhance their ability to compete for federal grants. All proposals were evaluated based on the impact, innovation, approach and relevance to sex-based research. 

Dr. Radulovic is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Pharmacology and Physiology at Northwestern University. Dr. Radulovic’s research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which memories of stressful events can contribute to anxiety and depression like behaviors. Dr. Radulovic plans to use funds from the Shaw Family Pioneer Award to develop a new method for studying the role of oxytocin receptors in generating patterns of neuronal activity in response to stress in both female and male mice. This project includes some of the latest technology which will allow for visualization of the activity of individual neurons in freely moving mice as they perform behavioral tasks to assess anxiety, memory and social behaviors. The findings will help with constructing new frameworks for sex specific behavioral regulation that can then be translated into human research.

Dr. Martin is an Assistant Professor of Medicine (Nephrology and Hypertension). Dr. Martin plans to focus on chronic kidney disease (CKD) and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in patients that have CKD. CKD is higher in women but men progress CKD more rapidly. Dr. Martin will investigate the onset of CKD and elevations of fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23), which is responsible for regulating phosphorous and vitamin D metabolism, in both male and female mice. This work is relevant to sex-based discoveries because it will focus on cardiovascular disease mortality and the gender-disparities in CKD. This research is innovative in many ways, including that it will be the first study to identify specific gender based molecular mechanisms of cardiac injury. Funding from this award will support Dr. Martin’s goal in producing additional preliminary data that will establish the foundation for an NIH R01 grant application. This grant application will focus on mechanisms of cardiac injury and gender disparities in chronic kidney disease.

Stay tuned for updates in the coming months from the awardees! 

Posted by on January 25, 2018 - 5:56am

Today, the Women’s Health Research Institute will host the 2nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research at Prentice Women’s Hospital. The event coincides with the 2nd anniversary of the landmark NIH policy which requires investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. The theme of this year’s symposium is “A Spotlight On Autoimmunity,” and will feature exciting lectures from national experts in sex-based immunology. In addition to an outstanding lecture series, the symposium will feature a panel discussion on the state of sex-inclusive science, invited abstract presentations, and a poster session highlighting the work of members of the Northwestern University community.

 If you are interested in attending the symposium, same-day registration is available. Event details can be found at the link below:

2nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research  

Follow today’s discussion on the Twitter at @WomensHealthN using the hashtag #SexCellsNU2018.

Posted by on January 16, 2018 - 8:57am

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so over the next few weeks the Women’s Health Research Institute will be posting a series of blogs related to this important topic in women’s health.

 While cervical cancer rates have dropped significantly within the United States throughout the last several decades, cervical cancer still remains a critical global health issue. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is second most common form of cancer for women living in less developed regions of the world. Each year, approximately 270,000 women die from cervical cancer, with 85% of deaths occurring in low-to-middle income countries [1].

 The high mortality rate for cervical cancer in the developing world is driven by limited access to cervical cancer screening and treatment. Laboratory-based methods used to detect cervical cancer, and the personnel required to perform and analyze them may be unavailable in resource-limited settings. Likewise, the ability to treat cervical cancer is highly dependent on access to surgical facilities, chemotherapy agents, and radiation equipment [2].

 Efforts are underway by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control to promote other methods of detection besides the traditional pap smear [3]. These include human papilloma virus testing (HPV) and visual inspection of the cervix using a vinegar solution [3]. The United Nations Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control also recommends providing the HPV vaccine to all adolescent girls in order to reduce the incidence of HPV-associated cervical cancer [4]. Together, these strategies may reduce the burden of cervical cancer worldwide.


1. Ferlay et al. International Journal of Cancer 2015; 136(5): E359-86.
2. Small et al., Cancer. 2017;123(13):2404-2412.
3. Centers for Disease Control.
4. United Nations Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control

Posted by on January 9, 2018 - 12:59pm

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so over the next few weeks the Women’s Health Research Institute will be posting a series of blogs related to this important topic in women’s health.

Did you know that that over 90% of cases of cervical cancer in the United States are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) infection [1]? Below, we will take a closer look at the biology behind HPV associated cervical cancer.

What is HPV?

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection which is spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will become infected at some point in their lives. Over 90% of people who become infected with HPV do not have any symptoms and the infection naturally resolves within 2 years [2]. However, certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts, while other highrisk strains such as HPV and are associated with cervical, anal, and oral cancer.

How does HPV cause cancer?

HPV infects epithelial cells which serve as a barrier between us and the environment. Sexualcontact introduces HPV to epithelial cells which line the vagina, cervix, anus, penis, or mouth. High-risk strains of HPV produce viral proteins which change the rate at which our cells grow and divide. Most of the time, our immune system can detect and destroy infected cells. However, in some cases HPV infected cells avoid detection and continue to grow uncontrollably. This leads to precancerous growths, and ultimately cancer.

How is HPV detected?

Currently, there are only methods to detect cervical HPV infection. Cells are collected from the cervix, similar to a pap smear, and tested for the DNA of high-risk HPV strains.

Can HPV infection be prevented?

As previously mentioned, HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. Limiting the number of sexual partners and practicing safe sex can reduce your risk of contracting HPV. There are currently three FDA approved vaccines which can prevent high-risk HPV infection, but they cannot treat any current HPV infections. HPV vaccines are recommended for men and women under the age of 26, who did not receive the vaccine as a child or teen. 

For additional information on HPV and HPV-associated cervical cancer, consider checking out the following resources:

  1. Center for Disease Control
  2. Ho et al. N Engl J Med 1998;338(7);423-8
Posted by on January 2, 2018 - 9:50am

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so over the next few weeks the Women's Health Research Institute will be posting a series of blogs related to this important topic in women's health.

Cervical cancer used to be one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths for women in the United States. Yet, thanks to widespread screening and timely detection and treatment, cervical cancer death rates have dropped over 50% in the last 40 years [1]. Cervical cancer screening is done by a pap smear, also known as a pap test. During a pap smear, cells are gently scraped from the cervix and later visualized under a microscope to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous changes. This screening method is easy for clinicians to perform and is relatively cost-effective. Many women recognize that pap smears are an important part of their routine health and wellness, yet few know the history behind this valuable diagnostic tool.

The "pap" smear is named after Dr. George Papanicolaou, a physician-scientist who is credited with the discovery of the test in the early 20th century. Papanicolaou received his medical degree from the University of Athens and went on to pursue a PhD in zoology from the University of Munich [2]. He emigrated to the United States in 1913 and shortly after accepted positions within the Pathology Department at New York University and Anatomy Department at Cornell University Medical College [2]. His research focused on the cellular changes of the reproductive tract. In 1928, Papanicolaou found that cancerous cells from the cervix could be detected by smearing a swab from the cervix onto a microscope slide [3]. The technique did not attract the attention of the medical community, however, until the 1943 publication of his book, Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by Vaginal Smear [4].

In 1960, Papanicolaou moved to Florida where he served as the director of the Dade County Cancer Institute. Following his death in 1962, the institute was renamed the Papanicolaou Cancer Research Institute [2]. Throughout his career, Papanicolaou received numerous professional accolades and honorary degrees for his work [2]. In 1978, the United States Postal Service commissioned a 13 cent-postage stamp in his honor. Today, the Florida-based philanthropy, the Papanicolaou Corps for Cancer Research, supports cancer research in his name [5]. To read more about the life and career of Dr. Papanicolaou click here (

1. American Cancer Society 
2. Tan and Tatsumura. Singapore Med J. 2015 Oct; 56(10): 586–587.
3. Papanicolaou, G. New Cancer Diagnosis, Proc. Third Race Betterment Conf., Jan. 2-6, 1928, 528-534.
4. Papanicolaou and Traut. Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by Vaginal Smear, New York, The Commonwealth Fund, 1943.
5. The Papanicolaous Corps