Nicole C. Woitowich's picture

Nicole obtained her PhD in Biochemisty and Molecule Biology from Rosalind Franklin University with a focus on Reproductive Physiology. She utilizes traditional and non-traditional science communication methods to educate and engage the Northwestern community on the importance of sex and gender inclusion in the biomedical and clinical fields. Her work varies from developing tools to help researchers incorporate sex as a biological variable in their research, to meeting with community members to discuss differences in their health and well-being based on their sex.  Additionally, she oversees programming which promotes the advancement and retention of women in science in medicine no matter what stage in their career – from high school students to the tenured professor. 

My Blog Posts

Posted by on February 28, 2018 - 3:39pm

This March, the Women’s Health Research Institute is celebrating Women’s History Month by paying tribute to the women who have shaped the fields and science and medicine. Through a series of blog posts, we will highlight female scientists, physicians, and scholars who have furthered our understanding of health and disease.

Below we’ve compiled just a few local and national resources which support and promote women in science and medicine.

Professional Societies

Northwestern University Organizations

K-12 Students

Other Resources:

https://www.beyondcurie.com/

 

Posted by on February 14, 2018 - 8:15pm

From phone numbers and addresses to loved one’s birthdays, we are very good at keeping track of certain numbers. However, the American Heart Association recommends adding a few more to that list in order to keep track of your heart health!

Total and HDL Cholesterol

Cholesterols are fat-like molecules that are found throughout our body. They are used as building blocks for hormones and important structural components to our cells. They are transported through our blood stream by two types of proteins: high density lipoproteins (HLD) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). Build-up of LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis or plaque forming in the arteries, whereas HDL or “good” cholesterol carries cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down and removed from the body. A blood test can determine your total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol numbers. You should discuss these numbers with your doctor to see how they impact your personal heart health.  

To learn more about cholesterol, click here!  

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measurement which tells us how much force is being exerted on our blood vessels with every heartbeat. It is typically recorded as two numbers: The systolic and diastolic blood pressures. This accounts for the force when the heart is contracting (in systole) or relaxing (in diastole). Normal blood pressure for adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mmHg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can be a significant risk factor for heart disease, so it’s important to know your blood pressure and discuss it with your doctor.

To learn more about blood pressure, click here!

Blood Sugar

Blood sugar refers to the amount of glucose, a type of sugar molecular, which is found in our blood. It is the major source of energy for our cells, so it is critical that our blood sugar remain within a certain range. Health problems can occur when blood sugar becomes too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Normal fasting blood sugar levels should be between 70 – 100 mg/dL. People with high blood sugar who are pre-diabetic or diabetic are at greater risk for developing heart disease compared to those with normal blood sugar levels. Fasting blood sugar levels can be determined by a simple blood test taken at your doctor’s office.

To learn more about blood sugar, click here!

 

Body Mass Index    

Being overweight or obese can also increase the risk of developing heart disease. Body mass index (BMI) is a measurement of body fat which can be used to help you and your healthcare providers determine if you need to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has a BMI calculator tool you can use along with additional resources for weight management. 

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

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.

 

References:

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 January 31, 2018 - 1:30pm
February is designated as American Heart Month, so over the next few weeks the Women’s Health Research Institute will join many other organizations in recognizing this important health issue. In particular, we will explore how sex and gender can influence cardiovascular 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 @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!
References:
1. Kim and Menon., Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2009 Mar;29(3):279-83.


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.

 

References:
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:

References:
  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 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4613936/).

References:
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

 

Posted by on December 19, 2017 - 8:44am

The holidays can be one of the busiest times of the year, so take a few moments to review these tips to ensure you and your loved ones have a safe and healthy holiday season:

1. Wash your hands often This may seem like a "no-brainer," but hand washing may be one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infections like the common cold or flu. It's important to wash your hands any time you may come into contact with infectious agents like bacteria or viruses. This may include after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, using the rest room, touching household pets, preparing food, before you eat, or after you have touched garbage. Proper hand washing technique includes washing with soap and water, while scrubbing them together for at least 20 seconds. If you're in a situation where you do not have access to soap and running water, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the next best option.

2. Handle and prepare food safely Whether you're in charge of preparing a holiday ham or simply slicing vegetables, proper food handling techniques help prevent the risk of food-related illness. Be sure to wash your hands prior to working with food, and in between handling raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs. In addition, make sure that all surfaces which come in contact with food are cleaned thoroughly, such as cutting boards, knives, or counter tops. Fresh fruit and vegetables should be rinsed prior to use and all meats be cooked to the appropriate temperature before serving. Also, to prevent holiday leftovers from spoiling, refrigerate foods promptly and check food storage guidelines.

3. Stay warm If you plan on staying indoors this holiday season, be sure to check that your heating system is in good working condition and your fire and carbon monoxide detectors are functional. For those headed outdoors, wear appropriate clothing such as winter coats, hats, gloves, and boots which can help prevent frostbite and hypothermia. For those of you who may be traveling by car, consider packing a winter emergency kit which includes blankets, food and water, a flashlight, first-aid kit, and extra auto accessories. Weather forecasts may change rapidly, so heed weather alters and warnings in order to stay safe!

4. Eat healthy and be active It may be easy to over-indulge during the holidays as savory meals and sweet treats are a staple at festive gatherings. However, by practicing portion control and making healthy food choices, the holiday season does not need to be associated with an expanding waist-line and weight gain. Consider swapping out sugary-desserts for fresh fruits, or limiting your intake of foods rich in fats or salt.

5. Manage stress The added pressures of travel, last-minute shopping, and entertaining during the holiday season may cause some increased stress. Stress can affect both our emotional and physical health, so we encourage you to take care of yourself by eating well-balanced meals, getting enough sleep, talking with friends and family, and taking time to relax.

Interested in additional health tips? Check out "The 12 Ways to Health," holiday song by the Centers for Disease Control! It features the topics we've discussed above, plus some additional healthy habits.

References:
1. Centers for Disease Control

Posted by on December 5, 2017 - 7:03am

In 2007, the Women’s Health Research Institute was founded as an interdisciplinary center designed to accelerate the rate of discovery in the sciences that impact women’s health and well-being. This year, join the WHRI as we celebrate a decade of milestones in sex-inclusive science and women’s health research.

Since its inception, the WHRI has:  

  • Championed for sex-inclusive policies, resulting in the 2016 National Institutes of Health policy to consider sex as a biological variable
  • Matched thousands of women in to clinical research trials at Northwestern University and beyond through the Illinois Women’s Health Registry
  • Supported sex-inclusive research at Northwestern University through the establishment of the Pioneer Awards
  • Authored over 900 blogs, 75 newsletters, and numerous peer-reviewed publications dedicated to women’s health and sex-inclusive science
  • Hosted more than 90 monthly Women’s Health Research Forums which create awareness of the roles of sex and gender play in health and disease
  • Mentored hundreds of young women who will lead the next generation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine through the Women’s Health Science Program

On Tuesday, December 12th, the WHRI will host a 10th Anniversary Celebration and Luncheon. WHRI Founder and Director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff, will give a special lecture reflecting on the past 10 years of the Institute and its vision for the years to come.

Click here to register for the WHRI 10th Anniversary Lecture and Celebration! 

 

Help us celebrate our 10th anniversary by making a gift to support sex-inclusive science and improve the health and well-being of all people. 

 

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