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Press Releases

March 03, 2014

Leaders in Government, Industry, Medicine and Science Convene at National Policy Summit on Women's Health

BOSTON, MA---U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) today addressed a national audience on the need to ensure equity for women in biomedical research. The Senator’s remarks were part of “Charting the Course: A National Policy Summit on the Future of Women’s Health,” held in Boston, hosted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and timed to celebrate and reflect on the 20th anniversary of the landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act that required NIH-funded medical research to include women and minorities.

The Summit began with the release of a new research report stating that two decades after a landmark law mandating the inclusion of women in biomedical research, sex differences remain dangerously understudied in today’s medical research. Sex-specific research is still the exception, not the norm. As a result, many women receive recommendations from their doctors for prevention strategies, diagnostic tests and medical treatments based on research that has not adequately included women or reported results on women.

The report, entitled “Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait,” co-authored by The Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Jacobs Institute for Women’s Health at George Washington University, states that the science that informs medicine—including the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease—routinely fails to consider the critical impact of sex and gender. This occurs at the earliest stages of research, when females are excluded from animal and human studies and in later stages when researchers fail to report outcomes by sex. Roadblocks to gender equity in health are evident in many of the diseases that disproportionately impact women, including lung cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and depression, raising questions about the impact of current science on women’s health.  

“The 1993 law championed by Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Henry Waxman was critical to the progress we’ve made to include women in NIH-funded clinical trials. But as the Connors Center report shows, simply including women in trials hasn’t provided us with the data we need to make sure that women get the evidence-based care they deserve. We need to close the gaps in our understanding of sex-based health differences. I am very grateful that the Connors Center is working to address this important medical research issue, and I am committed to doing my part in Washington” said Senator Warren. In recent days, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Chairman Fred Upton calling for hearings to examine the progress being made to include women and minorities in health research.

“Gender equality – whether in the workplace or in the scientific process – is something that companies across all industries have been focusing on for years,” said Ann Finucane, Global Strategy and Marketing Officer, Bank of America. “While there’s still plenty of work to be done, it’s universally acknowledged that addressing this inequality is good for business and society as a whole. The fact that important gender research may be lacking in parts of the scientific process is a missed opportunity.”

The half-day Summit also featured U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD; Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Victoria Reggie Kennedy; Bank of America’s Anne Finucane; BWH President Dr. Elizabeth Nabel; Executive Director of the BWH Connors Center Dr. Paula Johnson; NPR’s Tom Ashbrook; CBS News Lesley Stahl; and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, who appeared in a taped broadcast.   

Summit participants responded to recommendations within the report that call for a multi-stakeholder approach to greater enforcement and potential expansion of regulations relating to the inclusion of women and the acknowledgement of sex differences in medical research. The recommendations include: stronger government accountability, better transparency and disclosure, expanding sex-based research requirements, and adopting clinical care practices and training curricula that incorporate a sex- and gender-based lens in care and research.

“We believe that by recommitting to a strong policy agenda on equity and quality in science, we will finally bring knowledge and discovery directly into practice, improving health outcomes for women, men and future generations,” said Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, executive director of the Connors Center at BWH, and professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

“This summit is an unprecedented opportunity for the health care community, political leadership and the public to explore the progress that has been made since 1993, and identify new ways to improve medical research policies for both women and men, empower stakeholders, and adopt a gender-specific approach to treating disease,” said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, president of BWH. “We are honored to be the convener of this critical discussion.”

The report framed the half-day sessions that included a science policy panel, called the “Data Gap,” moderated by Host of NPR’s “On Point” Tom Ashbrook with Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, FAPA, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Pfizer, Inc; Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, cardiologist and professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and chief editor of JAMA Internal Medicine; and Vivian Pinn, MD, former director of the Office of Research on Women's Health at the NIH.
Lesley Stahl, CBS’ 60 Minutes correspondent, facilitated another discussion on the Pathways Forward with: U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD and Victoria Reggie Kennedy.
Driving home this important message, Johnson recently spoke at TEDWomen 2013, where she set the stage for changing the course of women’s health by advocating for the application of a gender-based lens to all diseases as a way of improving health for both women and men.

Convened by BWH, “Charting the Course: A National Summit on the Future of Women's Health” is supported by premier sponsor Bank of America, as well as event partners WBUR and The Boston Foundation.

For more information on the summit and the report, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #womenshealthsummit

“Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait,” is coauthored by Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, executive director of the Connors Center and professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Therese Fitzgerald, PhD, MSW, of the Connors Center, Alina Salganicoff, PhD, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Susan F. Wood, PhD, of the Jacob’s Institute for Women’s Health, and Jill M. Goldstein, PhD, MPH, director of Research at the Connors Center and professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The report draws on numerous sources and, for the first time, aggregates existing evidence regarding scientific practices and sex differences.    

The Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology and the Division of Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, led by Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, are committed to improving the health of women and transforming their medical care through the discovery, dissemination and integration of knowledge of women’s health and sex and gender-based differences and the application of this knowledge to the delivery of care. We are committed to building awareness of issues related to women’s health and gender biology among clinicians, patients and the general public, advocating for changes in public policy to improve the health of women, and advancing the field of women’s health globally by developing leaders with the experience and skills to have a major impact on improving the health of women.