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New White House initiative expands women's health research

December 12, 2023
Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

The Biden administration has announced a White House initiative to improve women's health research throughout the country. Led by First Lady Jill Biden and the Gender Policy Council, the initiative will use investments, policy and public awareness to address women's health disparities.

Biden announced the initiative during a Nov. 13 speech. During the speech, she noted several inequalities in women's health research, including little understanding of conditions that primarily affect women. 

"Research on women's health has been underfunded for decades, and many conditions that mostly or only affect women, or affect women differently, have received little to no attention," Biden's press release said. "Because of these gaps, we know far too little about how to manage and treat conditions like endometriosis and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis."

Michigan State University epidemiology and biostatistics professor and women's health scientist Claire Margerison said understandings of women's health are behind due to the history of health research. 

"For decades and centuries, the main people doing research were men," Margerison said. "And they were interested in topics that were related to men's health or health that was related to their own lived experience. So, I think that we're kind of startlingly behind in terms of understanding the health that only affects females."

According to the press release, the federal initiative will: 

  • Identify opportunities where investments could "catalyze significant progress in addressing women's health needs."
  • Set priorities to help guide Federal research investments.
  • Improve coordination between women’s health research agencies and offices.
  • Develop policy recommendations to improve Federal research and data collection efforts for women's health needs and the "translation of research advancements into practical benefits for patients and providers."
  • Identify opportunities to develop public-private partnerships to drive innovation.
  • Engage the scientific and research communities with women's health needs.
  • Asses opportunities to "recruit, train, and support women pursuing health and biomedical research careers to help strengthen and diversify the research workforce."
  • Identify ways to increase public awareness of women’s health research inequalities.

Professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and women's health researcher Mat Reeves said specifically targeting investments toward research on women's health will help inspire more people to study these issues.

"If this report comes with tangible, targeted funding or directives to [National Institutes of Health], that would increase the number of applications because people now know that this is something the government wants to fund," Reeves said. "People will write grants targeting things that the government prioritizes. So, if you prioritize this, you will get more grants and get more funding and we will learn more."

Reeves' research focuses on gender differences in strokes. Women's experiences and outcomes with strokes are different than those of men, Reeves said.

Women tend to have more strokes at older ages than men do and also tend to face bigger social and physical impacts after their strokes, he said. 

Margerison studies how policies affect the health of pregnant people and people who have recently given birth.  She said the United States has much higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality than other "high-income countries."

Margerison said she has felt lucky to conduct research at MSU, where women's health research is a strength. An increase in funding can only improve the industry, she said.

"Because we are just behind in our understanding of so many aspects of women's health, more funding in that area can only be beneficial," Margerison said. "I think that we would be well-positioned to contribute a lot in that field in the state of Michigan. We would be able to build on a lot of existing strengths and make big contributions."

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