Women’s Health Research – Connors Center

Introduction

Women and men have different risks for the onset, expression, course and treatment response in a number of disorders that occur at different stages of development and throughout the aging process. The mechanisms that explain many of these sex differences are still unclear. Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has the opportunity be at the leading edge of sex and gender-based science by assembling the faculty and developing the research infrastructure necessary to promote discovery in this emerging field.  

Overview

The goal of the Division of Women’s Health/Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology (Connors Center) research initiative is to close the knowledge gap in the understanding of predictors of adult women’s health in order to prevent the onset of chronic disease in women. The research initiative takes a lifespan perspective to identify etiologic mechanisms during fetal development, puberty, adulthood, and aging, with some focus on periods specific to women such as child-bearing years, perimenopause, and menopause. The Division/Connors Center is particularly interested in fostering translational models of investigating sex-specific vulnerabilities to illnesses. In addition, the research infrastructure promotes the undertaking of outcomes and operational research that addresses issues important to women’s health and health care. We also are invested in training the next generation of leaders in the field of sex differences in clinical medicine.

Mission

In order to achieve our objectives, we will need to attract senior scientists in different fields that are working on physiology and pathophysiology related to sex differences or health issues related specifically to women. The Connors Center is also committed to training junior investigators who would commit their careers to studying the impact of sex and gender on physiology and pathology.  The Connors Center will take a developmental perspective to identify etiologic mechanisms of sex differences during fetal development, puberty, child-bearing years, perimenopause, menopause and aging. By bringing together senior and junior investigators with a broad range of research interests across the developmental span, we will provide an environment rich in knowledge and training. The young investigators will be mentored by senior faculty to develop their work in their areas of interest.  The major strategies in service to advancement of the research goal are:

  • Lead in the discovery of biological and environmental determinants of adult women’s health and sex differences in disease
  • Create a model and train investigators and leaders in women’s health research
  • Create a family cohort from deliveries at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that is a research and clinical resource
  • Carry out clinical trials that advance women’s health.

Research Focus

Jill Goldstein, PhD, Director of Research for the Connors Center, together with the Research Advisory Committee, a cross-disciplinary group of nineteen senior researchers from throughout the hospital, lead the Connors Center research effort. Members of the Research Advisory Committee also serve as members of the Connors-BRI Center for Research in Women’s Health and Gender Biology (Center) under the leadership of Drs. Jill Goldstein (chair) and Julie Buring (co-chair). By working collaboratively, this group is shaping the research program to stimulate basic and clinical research efforts across the institution.The Center has identified foci built upon the depth of research expertise at BWH and the opportunities realized through the inter-disciplinary work of the Center, including the following:

  • Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), Diabetes, Obesity and other Metabolic Syndrome Disorders
  • Sex Differences in Neuropsychiatric Disorders and their Comorbidity with General Medical Disorders: Depression, anxiety and substance use disorders and comorbidity with CVD, autoimmune disorders and Alzheimer’s
  • Sex Differences in Autoimmune Disorders: Multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Menopause and General Medical Disorders/Aging
  • Sex Differences in Musculoskeletal Diseases: Osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, vitamin D

In addition to the specific areas of research focus, the Center focuses on 1) training and 2) engagement with the broader community in the process of discovery. 

Research Training

The Division of Women’s Health/Connors Center is the home site for the Harvard-wide, NIH-funded, Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) award. Entitled “Hormones & Genes in Women’s Health: From Bench to Bedside”, the BIRCWH Program supports scholars investigating the role of hormones and genes in understanding sex differences in disease and those disorders specific to women by providing up to five years of funding and mentored research from Harvard faculty in basic, translational, or clinical aspects of women’s health. The success of the BIRCWH Program is measured by the ability of the scholars to develop careers as independent investigators, including successfully obtaining research support and publishing high quality work with substantial contributions to understanding issues important to women’s health. Learn more about BIRCWH and Research Training.

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