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 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. 

 

Posted by on December 1, 2017 - 4:43pm

Each year, December 1st is recognized as World AIDS Day. Although the rates of new HIV infections have continued to decline within the United States, HIV and AIDS remains a global public health concern. According to the World Health Organization, 36.7 million people across the world are living with HIV, 47% of whom are women.

Women with HIV may face a host of unique health challenges compared to men. For example, women living with HIV have gynecological issues such as menstrual cycle changes, increased risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases, higher rates of vaginal infections, and early entry into menopause [1]. Also, women infected with HIV are 5 times more likely to develop cervical cancer and require additional screenings [2]. In addition, several anti-retroviral drugs commonly used to treat HIV, such as nevirapine and ritonavir, may cause more adverse drug reactions in women compared to men [1].

To learn more about HIV and AIDS consider visiting the following national and local resources:
Centers for Disease Control
Northwestern Medicine HIV Center
Chicago Department of Public Health – Free STI/HIV/AIDS Testing and Treatment
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Howard Brown Health

References:
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
2. National Cancer Institute

 

Posted by on November 13, 2017 - 12:44pm

The National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health posted video recordings from the Sex as a Biological Variable Workshop held last month on October 26th and 27th. The videos feature sessions which focus on sex differences in brain function and behavior, gene expression, and within animal models. The keynote lecture, “Sex-specific risk for cardiovascular dysfunction and cognitive decline,” was presented by Dr. Virginia Miller from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and can be found on the recording from Day 1.

Click on the links below to access the full recordings from the workshop:
Day 1: Thursday, October 26th, 2017
Day 2: Friday, October 27th, 2017

Are you looking for an opportunity to learn more about sex-based research? Consider attending the 2nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research, held at Northwestern University on January 25th, 2018! Click here for more information

Posted by on October 27, 2017 - 11:54am

Over the past two decades, there have been significant efforts to improve the participation of women in clinical trial research. However, a new report shows that even while women may be represented in clinical trials, the data obtained from both male and female study participants are rarely analyzed by sex [1].

The study conducted in collaboration by the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Research on Women and Gender and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Women's Health Research, reviewed the results of 107 NIH-funded, randomized controlled trials published in 2015 which included both male and female participants. They found that 72% of clinical trials failed to analyze their data by sex, report any sex-specific outcomes of their work, nor provide an explanation as to why sex was excluded in their analyses. In addition, this represents an increase in the lack of sex-specific reporting from 67% in 2004 and 64% in 2009.

Failing to analyze clinical research data by sex has significant implications for both men and women. When clinical research data is analyzed by sex, it can identify key differences which impact health and disease, giving us the ability to design and develop individualized therapies or treatments. To encourage sex-based analyses, the study authors recommend that researchers have open discussions regarding the influences of sex and gender, call upon journals to improve publishing guidelines for sex-specific reporting, and a revision of NIH-grant scoring policies based on study design and analyses.

To learn more about sex-inclusive research visit sexinclusion.northwestern.edu or consider registering for the 2nd Annual Symposium on Sex Inclusion in Biomedical Research!

References:
1. Gellar et al. Acad Med. 2017 Oct 19. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002027. [Epub ahead of print].

Posted by on October 17, 2017 - 9:40am

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects about 75 million Americans – or approximately 1 out of every 3 adults [1]. It can be a serious health condition, as high blood pressure can increase the risk for cardiovascular and kidney disease. However, a new research suggests that women with high blood pressure early in life might be at risk for developing other health complications such as dementia [2].

A study published in the journal Neurology, examined the health records of over 5,600 men and women over a 50-year time period for evidence of high blood pressure in early- to mid-adulthood and a diagnosis of dementia after the age of 60. The authors found that women who developed high blood pressure in their 40s had a 73% higher risk of developing dementia later in life, compared to women with normal blood pressure. Interestingly, this increase in risk was sex-specific, as it was not seen in men.

While other research has shown that high blood pressure is a risk factor for developing dementia [reviewed in 3], this is the first study to demonstrate a significant sex-difference in dementia risk for women with high blood pressure at a young age. Additional research is needed to determine how high blood pressure, over the course of a lifespan, affects men and women differently.

References:
1. Centers for Disease Control
2. Gilsanz et al., Neurology. 2017 Oct 4. pii: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004602.
3. Kennelly et al., Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2009 Jul; 2(4): 241–260.

Posted by on October 2, 2017 - 8:56am

The Northwestern University Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching is hosting a series of events this October which will discuss the social and cultural contexts which shape the experiences of women in male-dominated STEM fields. The 4-part series entitled, “Topics in STEMinism” will feature the following:

  • The Status of Women Scientists - October 4th, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
  • Preparing for and Navigating the Job Market - October 11th, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
  • Women in STEM Careers Panel – October 18th, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
  • Exploring Critical and/or Feminist STEM Teaching & Research – October 25th, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

The events will be held on the Evanston and Chicago campuses, and are also accessible online.   

Evanston Campus Location:
TGS Commons
2122 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60201

Chicago Campus Location:
TGS Abbott Hall Conference Room
Abbott Hall, Room 332, 710 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611

For registration and additional information, click here.

Interested in more events for Women in STEM? The WHRI is hosting Coffee and Conversations with NU Faculty on October 18th and 26th. Click here to learn more!  

Posted by on September 25, 2017 - 9:41am

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.

 

Posted by on September 18, 2017 - 8:30am

The National Institutes of Health has 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.  

Posted by on September 13, 2017 - 9:25am

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.

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