Nicole C. Woitowich's picture

Dr. Nicole Woitowich is the Associate Director for the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University. She is actively transforming the landscape of women’s health through her research, advocacy, and outreach activities. She implements programming which informs the scientific and medical communities, as well as the public, about the influences of sex and gender on health and disease. In addition, Dr. Woitowich serves as the Director for the Illinois Women’s Health Registry, which promotes the participation of women in clinical research and evaluates state-wide women’s health trends. As a former Presidential Management Fellow awardee, she remains politically active and advocates on behalf of women’s health research. In 2018, she drafted legislation to recognize January 25th as National Women’s Health Research Day which was introduced in Congress by Sen. Duckworth and Rep. Schakowsky, and locally endorsed by Mayor Emanuel. While formally trained as biochemist, her current research explores the impact of science policy on research practices and gender biases in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields. Dr. Woitowich has held a long-standing interest in the advancement and retention of women in the STEMM pipeline and has created programs both at Northwestern University and beyond to this end.  In 2015, she was nominated to serve as a member of the Public Outreach Committee for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, due to her ability to communicate science to diverse audiences and her passion for making science publicly accessible. Through this role, she served as a co-organizer for SciOut18, the first national meeting of science outreach practitioners in the United States. 

My Blog Posts

Posted by on May 22, 2018 - 9:35am

Earlier this month,  the Women’s Health Research Institute welcomed 25 high school students from across the Chicagoland area to Northwestern University for a field trip focused on careers in biomedical research. The visit was organized in collaboration with the Step Up Women’s Network, a non-profit organization which hosts after-school programs designed to empower young women to be college-bound and career-focused.

As part of Step Up’s Pathways to Professions series, the students learned about the various career paths in biomedical research including research scientist, clinical study coordinator, veterinary technician, histologist, and research administrator. The students also had an opportunity to participate in hands-on laboratory activities and tour NU’s Center for Advanced Microscopy. At the end of the day, the students enjoyed lunch and a roundtable discussion with several NU students, faculty, and staff.

This event was sponsored by the Women’s Health Science Program which supports young women from underserved communities with who are considering careers in science and medicine and prepares them with valuable knowledge and skills to successfully become the next generation of women science leaders.

For more information about WHSP, including our upcoming summer program, click here.

For more information about Step Up Women's Network, click here.

Posted by on May 18, 2018 - 9:19am

WHRI Leadership Council Member, Dr. Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman was awarded the Paula H. Stern Award for Outstanding Women in Science and Medicine. This award was established by the Department of Pharmacology in conjunction with the Women's Faculty Organization to recognize female faculty members who have made a significant contribution to the their field of research and who serve as outstanding role models and mentors.

Dr. Ramsey-Goldman is the Solovy Arthritis Research Society Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of the Clinical Research Unit. Her work focuses on the study of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune conditions. An advocate for women's health, Dr. Ramsey-Goldman's research has explored the impact of SLE on the development of cardiovascular disease in women as well the treatment of autoimmune conditions during pregnancy.

Dr. Ramsey-Goldman is the second recipient of the Paula H. Stern Award. The inaugural honor went to Dr. Amy Paller, another prominent member of the WHRI Leadership Council and champion for women's health.

Congratulations to Dr. Ramsey-Goldman!

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 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!

Reference:
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

 

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