My Blog Posts

Posted by on June 22, 2010 - 1:46pm

Dr. Teresa Woodruff and Megan Faurot, WHSP Directors, with high school graduate who will be entering college in the fall.

For the third consecutive year, 100% of the high school seniors who participated in the Women’s Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond (WHSP) have successfully graduated from high school and will be going on to college in the fall.  Students selected to participate in WHSP attend Young Women’s Leadership Charter School (YWLCS). Twenty-one of the 51 student 2010 senior class of YWLCS participated in one or more of the WHSP academies.  To date WHSP has offered three academies, Oncofertility Saturday Academy, Cardiology Summer Academy, and Infectious Disease Summer Academy. The 21 WHSP high school seniors were accepted to a total of 63 colleges and universities across the nation.

A primary goal of WHSP is to provide the high school students with the opportunity to explore and prepare for academic programs and careers in science and medicine.  There are now a total of 53 WHSP students who have made the successful transition from high school to college.  The WHSP research team is tracking the academic and career behaviors of the students for up to 10 years after graduating from high school.

Colleges and universities where the WHSP students will be dispersing to in the fall, include:

Tennessee State University
University of Illinois at Chicago
California State University, Los Angeles
Clark Atlanta University
North Park University
Ursinus College
DePaul University
The College of Wooster
Knox College
Coe College
Michigan State University
Arizona State University
Alabama A&M University
Kennedy King College
Sweet Briar College

Congratulations WHSP students!

To learn more about WHSP visit

Posted by on May 19, 2010 - 8:00am

You may have seen the cover article on our Spring Newsletter titled “Spotlight on Obesity: Is it just your weight?”  This article focuses not only on the epidemic of obesity in the U.S. but also on the serious health conditions that may result from obesity.  Although obesity is on the rise, however, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia still continue to be a problem, especially in women.  According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (2003) 90 percent of individuals with eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25.  Eating disorders are closely correlated with depression, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders, so it is important to diagnose and treat early.

The most common disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating.  You may already be familiar with these disorders, but they are listed below along with some the complications that may arise.

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder categorized by obsession with weight and food causing individuals to starve themselves or to exercise excessively in order to maintain a weight typically far below the normal weight range for their height and age.  Complications of anorexia include, heart problems, anemia, permanent bone loss, malnourishment, absent menstruation and death.

Bulimia nervosa is categorized by periods of binge eating followed by vomiting or excessive exercise to get rid of extra calories or weight.  Individuals with bulimia are similarly obsessed with weight and food.  Both disorders are closely tied to self-image and thus may be difficult to treat.  Complications of bulimia include heart problems, digestive problems, tooth decay, absent menstruation and death.

Binge-eating disorder is still not considered a psychiatric condition, but may be treated similarly to bulimia and anorexia.  Binge-eaters tend to consume unusually large amounts of food on a consistent basis.  This disorder may lead to obesity and complications associate with obesity such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.  In addition binge-eating disorder can cause psychological problems such as depression and suicidal thoughts.

Although the term eating disorder usually means one of the three disorders listed above, the term disordered eating is used to describe a variety of eating abnormalities that do not necessarily fall into, or are not severe enough to be categorized as one of the typical eating disorders.  Disordered eating may not be as serious in terms of complications, but it may lead to more serious eating disorders if left untreated or unaddressed.  According to a survey conducted by Self Magazine and the University of North Carolina, as many as 65% of American women between 25 and 45 exhibit disordered eating behaviors.  Women should not be afraid to seek help for issues they may have with eating, even if they do not think it is a severe eating disorder.  As peers, we should be supportive of women who are suffering from these diseases, and help them to overcome their issues.

Posted by on May 11, 2010 - 1:44pm

Nicole Miles learning how to take blood pressure during a Oncofertility Saturday Academy module in 2008. Nicole is now a sophomore at Smith College with the goal of applying to medical school.

The Oncofertility Summer Research Fellowship 2010 selected three Oncofertility Saturday Academy alumni students to provide them with ongoing support to pursue their academic and career goals.  Nicole Miles, Shaquita Webster, and Megan Romero will be working in Dr. Teresa Woodruff’s laboratory alongside basic research scientists this summer for eight weeks.  Student fellows will be involved in conducting biological research in the field of Oncofertility.  Fellows will take part in day-to-day lab operations, attend weekly meetings, and learn cutting-edge biotechnology techniques while assisting with research on a NIH-funded project.  Fellows will be writing papers detailing the results of their research as a required portion of this fellowship. In addition, students will aid in the planning of and assist with the inaugural Infectious Diseases Saturday Academy program.

The three fellows have a variety of science interests and career aspirations.  Nicole Miles is a sophomore at Smith College and taking the prerequisite courses to apply for medical school to become an OB/GYN clinician.  Shaquita Webster is a freshman at Spelman College who took a couple biology courses this year.  Shaquita is anticipating that the summer fellowship will support her to make the decision to pursue a career in reproductive physiology.  Megan Romero is returning for her second year of the fellowship.  As an experienced student fellow, she will provide additional leadership and guidance to Nicole and Shaquita.  Megan will be transferring to a university in Florida with an accredited forensic science program next fall to start her junior year in college.

The Oncofertility Summer Research Fellowship is a continuation of the Oncofertlity Saturday Academy for the fellows.  The Oncofertility Saturday Academy recruits high school girls who are curious about science to increase the number of girls and minorities entering the “science pipeline.”  The Oncofertility Summer Research Fellowship retains the girls to keep them in the “science pipeline” as they transition from high school to college.

Posted by on April 20, 2010 - 8:37pm

The Oncofertility Saturday Academy (OSA) program model, developed at Northwestern University's Institute for Women's Health Research, is designed to prepare and inspire high school girls to become the next generation of women leaders in science and medicine.  The program model has been replicated and implemented at multiple sites across the nation, including San Diego and Portland.  The success of the OSA program model is dependent on the active involvement of high school science teachers.  The role of the science teacher in OSA is to support and guide the high school girls as they learn advance science and health concepts and apply their knowledge to hands-on laboratory and clinical activities.  OSA learning modules are delivered directly by scientists and clinicians working in the fields of reproductive sciences, cancer biology and oncofertility.

Ericka Senegar-Mitchell, PhD, is the lead high school science teacher with OSA San Diego.

The OSA network is proud to announce the recent awards presented to Ericka Senegar-Mitchell.  Ericka is the lead high school science teacher involved with the OSA San Diego site.  This school year Ericka has receive two prestigious awards, including the Teacher of the Year from Serra High where she is teaches biology and biotechnology.  On top of that, last month she won the California State Teacher of the Year.  Ericka will continue to be recognized, as she is being nominated for the San Diego County Teacher of the Year and the California State Teacher of the Year. OSA San Diego is offered to high school students through a partnership between the University of California at San Diego and BeWise (Better Education for Women in Science and Engineering).

Ericka is a dedicated science educator who is changing the lives of her students inside and outside of the classroom.  Ericka’s depth of knowledge and experience working directly with high school students on a daily basis has strengthen the OSA network.  As the OSA network continues to expand nationally, and one day globally, we will strive to identify high school teachers who are as passionate and innovative as Ericka Senegar-Mitchell.

Posted by on March 18, 2010 - 12:58pm

Ashley J. and Aryana M. practice taking each other's blood pressure.

On Thursday, March 11, 2010 the Institute for Women's Health Research in collaboration with Young Women's Leadership Charter School graduated 29 high school girls from the Oncofertility Saturday Academy.  Over 100 guests - parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and faculty - came to the graduation to celebrate the high school girls new science and health knowledge and experiences gained over the past two months.  Each high school girl came prepared with a graduation reflection speech to share how the program impacted them in personal, social, and academic ways.  The Chicago Tribune interviewed three high school girls on the night of graduation and published an article titled, "Program Opens Girls' Eyes to Science."

Aryana M. reads her OSA graduation speech with confidence.

Aryana M. walked proudly up to the podium, wearing her white laboratory coat, and with confidence read her speech.  "Women are capable of doing anything if they put their minds to it. Determination is the key to what can be achieved and how it can be achieved. As I have participated in Oncofertility Saturday Academy for two years, I have grown into a very determined young lady who has the goal of pursuing a career in bioengineering. Every Saturday we encounter new experiences with lab work, clinical simulations, healthy lunches, and hard core work out sessions. With each experiment and session we had many learning experiences for future life situations."

To date a total of 65 high school girls have participated in the Oncofertility Saturday Academy.  100% of students who participate in OSA go on to college.  Currently, of the 32 who are in college, 28 are actively pursuing science majors.  The Oncofertility Saturday Academy is one of four academies offered by the Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond, a program created by the Institute for Women's Health Research.

Posted by on March 4, 2010 - 10:15am

The Illinois Women's Health Registry is currently featured on the Northwestern University homepage.  To read the latest article about the Registry go to  And you if you live in Illinois, sign up for the Registry!

Posted by on March 2, 2010 - 2:18pm

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disorder in which the endometrial tissue, or the inner lining of the uterus, migrates to areas outside the uterus, most commonly the ovaries and Fallopian tubes.  The endometrial tissue is the same tissue that thickens throughout the menstrual cycle and sheds (bleeds) causing the menstrual period.  When this process occurs outside the uterus, the blood has nowhere to go causing pain in the pelvic region and sometimes cysts or adhesions.

The symptoms of endometriosis include pelvic pain, heavy menstrual periods, bleeding between periods and infertility.  Because many other conditions can cause these symptoms, endometriosis is often difficult to diagnose.  The causes of endometriosis are uncertain, but it does tend to run in families, and having children likely reduces the risk of endometriosis.  Treatment for endometriosis ranges from symptom management with pain medication and hormone therapy such as oral contraceptives to surgical treatment.  Conservative surgery involves removing the misplaced endometrial tissue while preserving the uterus.  In severe cases and in cases where women are not hoping to reproduce in the future, a hysterectomy may be performed.  Endometriosis is not the same as endometrial cancer, which is cancer of the uterine lining, although the two conditions do share many similar symptoms, often allowing for early detection of endometrial cancer.

Resources at Northwestern for Treatment of Endometriosis:

The Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern Memorial Hospital provides comprehensive gynecologic services from some of the best Chicago gynecologic clinicians.  The hospital provides gynecological services that span a woman’s lifetime from well woman care, routine examinations and screenings to contraceptive management, menopause-related care, and incontinence and bladder care.

To request a first-time appointment, call 1-877-926-4664 or go online at

Research at Northwestern in Endometriosis:

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine is comprised of eleven different divisions pertaining to women’s obstetric and gynecological health.  The department has several full-time research faculty whose research projects focus on an array of disorders including endometriosis, gynecological cancers, HIV, and maternal-fetal health.  With over 50 current research projects and 4 active clinical trials, the department is a dynamic leader in women’s gynecological research.

For more information on clinical trials through the Department of OB/Gyn, see their website at

IWHR Highlighted Researcher:

Serdar E. Bulun, MD is the Director of the Division of Reproductive Biology Research and Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.   Dr. Bulun’s translational research interests are focused on estrogen biosynthesis and metabolism in diseases such as breast cancer, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis.  Specifically Dr. Bulun has studied aromatase expression in these hormone-related diseases and is responsible for the introduction of aromatase inhibitors as a treatment for endometriosis.  His translational research in endometriosis and fibroids has made a significant contribution both to the body of research in obstetric and gynecological disorders and to the health of millions of women suffering from these conditions.  Since his seminal paper in 1996, more than 300 articles have been published in the area of aromatase and endometriosis; this exceptional achievement earned him a NIH-MERIT award in 2010.  His current focus in endometriosis research is on retinoid production and action.  Dr. Bulun is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society, and the Society for Gynecologic Investigation and has served on the editorial boards of several prestigious journals including the Endocrine Reviews and is the U.S. Editor for the Journal of Molecular Endocrinology.

Posted by on February 9, 2010 - 11:01am

I have noticed that recently there have been a lot of commercials on television about getting your BRACAnalysis®.  You might be wondering what a BRAC analysis is? Or maybe you are wondering if you should get one?  The BRAC test is a genetic test that will test your genome for the presence of two genes that have been correlated with certain types of breast and ovarian cancer.

Mutations in these genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are strongly associated with 7% of breast cancers and 11-15% of ovarian cancers (1).  In most people, the BRCA genes are tumor suppressors, meaning they encode proteins that help regulate cell growth.   When these genes are mutated, they can lose their ability to control cell growth, and cancer can thus develop.  However, it is important to realize that not every woman who has a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop cancer.  About 12% of the general population of women will develop breast cancer; while approximately 60% of women with a BRCA mutation will develop breast cancer.  Similarly, about 1.4% of women will develop ovarian cancer, compared to 15-40% of women with a BRCA mutation.  However, since these two genes are only associated with certain types of breast and ovarian cancer, a negative test (no mutation) does not guarantee that you will not develop cancer at some point in your lifetime (2).

Because the genes are located on the autosomal chromosomes (as opposed to the sex chromosomes), the mutation can be inherited from either your mother or your father.  Most women who decide to undergo genetic BRCA testing have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.  However, there are no current medical guidelines for recommending BRCA tests.   Also, having a family member with the mutation does not necessarily mean you will have it to.  Once a woman tests positive for either BRCA1 or BRCA2, she has several options to help reduce her risk.  The most conservative options would be to monitor the breast and ovarian tissue with frequent screenings such as mammography or ultrasound.  More drastic options include removing the breast tissue and/or ovaries before cancer has a chance to develop, or taking chemotherapeutic drugs to help prevent cancer (clinical trials have demonstrated some success of these drugs in prevention of breast cancer).

A BRAC analysis test usually involves collection of a blood sample, and could cost you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and it may not be covered by your insurance company.  The good news however, is that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prevents discrimination from insurance companies or employers against people who have undergone genetic testing.  With personalized medicine on the rise, many individuals are concerned that their genetic information might be sold to employers and insurance providers and used to exclude them from employment or health coverage.  This law is meant to protect an individual’s right to privacy with his or her genetic information.

Ultimately it is your decision if you would like to undergo genetic testing.  It is important, however, to think about the emotional stress of undergoing such a test and receiving your results.  You might want to think beforehand about what you would do with the information.  If your test is positive, would you elect for preventative surgery?  Will your insurance cover early screening if you think you need it?  Knowing your risk can be both empowering and daunting.  I recently watched a wonderful documentary by filmmaker Joanna Rudnick, titled In the Family, that explores her own emotional struggle with genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer.  View the trailer below:

To learn more about the film click here.

1.  Claus EB, Schildkrauten JM, Thompson WD, Risch NJ, et al. The genetic attributable risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Cancer. 1996;77:2318-2324.

2.  National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet on BRCA1 and BRCA 2.

Posted by on February 1, 2010 - 10:21am

What is Heart Disease?

Heart Disease is a general term used to describe various diseases and syndromes of the heart and blood vessels.  Included in the definition are diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmia, heart valve disease, heart failure, and congenital heart defects, among others.

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women worldwide, but may be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.  The symptoms of heart disease vary dependent on the specific condition but include chest pain, shortness of breath, fluttering in the chest, swelling in the lower limbs, and fatigue.  Symptoms of a myocardial infarction (or heart attack) tend to be different between men and women, with women experiencing more subtle symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and nausea.  Consequently, it may be more difficult for health professionals to diagnose and respond to a heart attack in a woman.  In addition, recent research has shown that women suffer disproportionately than men from coronary artery disease in the small vessels (arterioles) as opposed to the larger arteries.  This may further complicate diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in women.

Causes of heart and cardiovascular disease include poor diet, little exercise, obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure, but may also be caused by congenital defects.  A healthy diet and exercise along with maintenance of blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress may help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Treatments for heart disease include lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases surgery, and it is best treated when diagnosed early.

Resources at Northwestern for Heart Disease:

The Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital offers state-of-the-art treatment in all areas of cardiovascular care.  Patients receive a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treatment and prevention from physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers specializing in cardiology, cardiac surgery, vascular medicine and surgery, cardiovascular anesthesiology, cardiac behavioral medicine and radiology, among others.  The Institute is comprised of six heart health centers for atrial fibrulation, coronary disease, heart failure, heart valve disease, vascular disease, and women’s cardiovascular health.  The Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center offers treatment specifically designed for women, tailoring treatment plans to optimize their specific cardiovascular needs.  The Center is also committed to promoting women’s awareness of cardiovascular health, highlighting the differences in symptoms and risk factors for women.

For more information call: (866) 662-8467 (toll free)

Northwestern Physicians/Researchers specializing in Heart Disease:

Researchers at the Feinberg Cardiovascular Research Institute are committed to exploring complex problems in cardiovascular research including molecular, cellular, stem cell and imaging technology research.   Investigators at the Institute work in areas of basic science and clinical research.  The innovative program in Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine seeks out new ways of growing new cardiac tissue as opposed to improving function of damaged tissues.  The program provides researchers with the means to bring basic science research into use in clinical trials.  Led by Dr. Douglas Losordo, MD, clinical trials are being conducted for treatment in the areas of coronary artery disease, heart failure, and vascular disease.

For more information visit:

IWHR Highlighted Researcher

Dr. Mercedes Carnethon is an Assistant Professor of Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.  She earned her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina in 2000 and joined the faculty of Northwestern in 2002.  Her research interests include the role of the nervous system on cardiovascular disease (CVD), the relationship between fitness and cardiovascular health and the effects of sleep on the risk for CVD.  She is a member of several professional societies including the American College of Epidemiology and the American Heart Association.  Most recently, Dr. Carnethon has initiated a study to evaluate how sleep duration might affect a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease.  Previous studies have evaluated patients with major sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, or have used sleep deprivation to evaluate the relationship.   Dr. Carnethon’s study will more closely mirror how women and men sleep during a normal week, and compare their sleep duration to indicators of their cardiovascular health.  The study hopes to justify the recommendations for total amount of sleep that an adult might need to maintain his or her heart health.

Photo: The Heart Truth Campaign

Photo: The Heart Truth Campaign

Upcoming Public Events:

NMH Annual Cardiovascular Symposium:  Heart Health – What Smart Women Need to Know, February 24, 2010, Prentice Women’s Hospital

Don't Forget - National Wear Red Day® is February 5th!

Posted by on January 18, 2010 - 8:52am

I know what you’re thinking, this is a Women’s Health Blog - but we like men here too.  A recent study published in Nature (and featured in the New York Times) reveals some interesting new insight into the X-chromosome’s somewhat puny-looking counterpart.  Researchers Jennifer Hughes and David Page at the Whitehead Institute have discovered that the Y-chromosome appears to be evolving much faster than the rest of the genome.

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 total); two of those chromosomes, called the sex chromosomes, are responsible for determining the sex of a human. Women have two of the same chromosomes, named X (see “What’s with the dancing X chromosomes?"), while men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, thus resulting in a mismatched pair.  Scientists have known for quite some time that the Y chromosome originally contained the same genes as the X chromosome, but has lost most of those genes through evolution.  Because of this, scientists have believed that the Y chromosome has been degrading through gene loss and has reached, or will reach a static state.

This new research however may prove otherwise.  In their study, Drs. Page and Hughes compared the genetic makeup of the human and the chimp.  Since chimps and humans shared a common ancestor just six million years ago, the differences in the genomes can help determine rates of evolution in the species.  The researchers found that while the chimp and human genomes differed in less than 1 percent of their DNA, comparison of the Y-chromosomes shows a difference of 30%.  This data indicates that this chromosome in particular is not static, but is in fact evolving at a greater rate than the rest of the genome.

The researchers suggest that some of this rapid evolutionary diversity might be attributable to differences in the mating patterns of humans and chimps and the large role of genes on the Y chromosome in sperm production.  A unique feature of the Y chromosome is that because it occurs in a mismatched pair with the X chromosome, it cannot exchange genes (called crossing-over) prior to meiotic cell division the way that the other twenty-two chromosomes do.   This places increased selective pressure on the Y chromosome, since a change in one gene must affect the reproductive fitness of the others.  In addition, the structure of the Y chromosome provides it with the opportunity to exchange genes with itself, which could accelerate the rate of change in its genetic sequence.

So does this mean that men are evolving faster than women?  No it doesn’t (sorry guys).  However, according to Andrew Clark, a geneticist at Cornell University (see NYT article), the rapid changes of the Y chromosome could have broader effects on the rest of the human genome.  Only further research will tell…