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Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)

Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH)

FY 2012-FY 2016 Program Abstracts

In August 2012, ORWH and cosponsoring NIH Institutes, including NCI, NIA, NIAID, NIAMS, NICHD, NIDA, and NIMH, funded 14 new and competing BIRCWH programs. Thirteen of these programs were competitively renewed, and one was a new site, University of Kentucky, that previously held a BIRCWH grant. Detailed BIRCWH FY 2012-FY 2016 program descriptions are provided by state.


Institution: University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center
Principal Investigator: Judy Regensteiner, Ph.D.

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (UCAMC) BIRCWH program renewal is to provide outstanding junior 43 faculty with state-of-the-art interdisciplinary and individualized career development training that will maximize their ability to establish independent biomedical research careers in areas relevant to improving women’s health. Long term, we seek to benefit the field of women’s health research and ultimately, women’s health, by adding a well-trained, diverse group of researchers to the workforce who are equipped to answer key scientific questions about women’s health and sex differences. To accomplish these goals we have created an environment that nurtures interdisciplinary collaborations in focused and interactive research areas that are essential to improving the health of women. The Colorado BIRCWH will continue to be housed in the Center for Women’s Health Research (CWHR), which provides key programs both on campus and in the community that support our BIRCWH scholars. In addition, since the 2007 award of the Colorado BIRCWH grant, UCAMC has successfully competed for a Clinical and Translational Science Award from NIH (CCTSI—Colorado Clinical Translational Science Institute). The programs offered by the CCTSI, with which the Colorado BIRCWH has a mutually beneficial affiliation, provide a rich environment for our BIRCWH scholars in concert with the BIRCWH-specific programs and those of the CWHR. The UCAMC has a very high level of support for BIRCWH, exemplified by strong financial support from the dean of the School of Medicine for BIRCWH. We will select promising and diverse BIRCWH scholars, as we have over the course of the current project period, who will be paired with experienced mentors (and who will have mentor teams) from our multiple campuses and schools in three interdisciplinary and interrelated focus areas across the life span in which UCAMC has great strength, including (1) pregnancy: placentation, lactation, and fetal/neonatal programming; (2) immunology/rheumatology/inflammation; and (3) adult health: obesity, menopause, aging, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.


Institution: Northwestern University
Principal Investigator: Andrea Dunaif, M.D.

The Northwestern University (NU) BIRCWH Career Development in Women’s Health (CDWH) program was established in 2007 to train the next generation of scientists for independent, interdisciplinary careers in the science of sex differences and in other fields relevant to women’s health. This objective will continue to be accomplished by bringing together a cadre of mentors with expertise in reproductive sciences and in diseases that differentially affect women to provide the scholars with interdisciplinary research experiences relevant to elucidating sex and gender factors affecting health. In so doing, the NU BIRCWH CDWH program will also enhance the career development of junior faculty, with particular attention to addressing work-life balance issues that can be especially challenging for women faculty. The institutional excellence in reproductive sciences and in diseases differentially affecting women, strong collaborative culture of NU, and ongoing commitment of institutional resources to career development have greatly facilitated the program. The program has been exceptionally successful in the first award period matriculating eight scholars and graduating five, three of whom now have independent grant support. One scholar who has completed the program was an under-represented minority. The mentors have been selected for their expertise in the overarching themes relevant to women’s health identified in the RFA: life span, sex/gender determinants, health disparities/differences and diversity, and interdisciplinary research. They are based in seven departments in Feinberg School of Medicine (medicine, neurology, obstetrics & gynecology, preventive medicine, and psychiatry & behavioral sciences) and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (molecular biosciences, neurobiology and physiology). There are six general areas of NU BIRCWH CDWH mentor expertise: (1) cardiovascular health and disease, (2) epidemiology and behavioral science, (3) immune function—auto immunity and infectious diseases, (4) metabolic function, (5) neuroscience, and (6) reproductive biology.

Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
Principal Investigator: Stacie Geller, Ph.D.

The overall goal of the UIC BIRCWH program, in alignment with the goals of the ORWH strategic plan, is to train a cadre of researchers to become independent investigators who will use novel, interdisciplinary approaches to advance women’s health and sex/gender-based science. In 4 years, we have engaged 10 scholars in our program, all of whom remain in women’s health or sex/gender-based research. Our scholars have been awarded 17 NIH grants and 26 other grants as principal investigators or co-investigators, published over 70 peer reviewed manuscripts, and given more than 70 oral and poster presentations at national or international scientific conferences. Our short-term objectives are (1) to enhance and refine three ongoing successful programmatic elements (the team mentoring approach, individualized scholar career development plans, and the combined core and tailored curriculum); (2) to develop and implement three new program elements to enhance the existing BIRCWH program and address the ORWH strategic plan goals (Mentoring the Mentor, the Knowledge Dissemination Program, and the Social Media Initiative) to enhance the existing BIRCWH program and address the ORWH strategic plan goals; (3) to recruit and train at least eight new BIRCWH scholars, particularly women and minorities, with interests in interdisciplinary women’s health research; and (4) to conduct a systematic evaluation using process and outcome measures to monitor for continuous quality improvement and to demonstrate the impact of the BIRCWH program. Our long-term objectives are (1) to advance women’s health and sex/gender-based science at UIC by fostering interdisciplinary collaborations and through the use of innovative research methodologies; (2) to train and mentor a diverse group of new investigators to achieve research independence and successful careers in women’s health or sex/gender-based research; and (3) to raise awareness across disciplines of the importance of examining sex- and gender-based differences throughout the life span.


Institution: University of Kentucky
Principal Investigator: Thomas Curry, Ph.D.

The University of Kentucky (UK) is uniquely positioned to continue using exceptional and outstanding research infrastructure to train the next generation of women’s health scholars. We choose to focus our scholarship efforts on those health challenges unique to Appalachian Kentucky. Because the Appalachian region is disproportionately affected by drug abuse, violence, and poor health, we will actively engage women living in Appalachian Kentucky in our research agenda with research flowing bidirectionally between communities and researchers. The focused areas targeted towards improving women’s health in this application include (1) substance abuse, (2) violence against women, and (3) hormonal regulation across a woman’s life span. UK is uniquely position to address violence against women because UK has the only U.S. Center focusing on research to prevent violence against women. Through this BIRCWH program, strengthening the capacity for women’s health research will be accomplished by the following specific aims: (1) to provide the environment, mentorship, and facilities to enhance the ability of BIRCWH scholars to compete for NIH research grants in diverse areas of women’s health research; (2) to deepen our understanding of the unique role of gender in the manifestation of health and disease; (3) to stimulate new collaborations in focused, interdisciplinary, and interactive research areas that are essential for improving women’s health; and (4) to use a thematic multidisciplinary focus as a platform for enhancing translational research between basic, clinical, and public health scientists. A strength of our BIRCWH program is its multidisciplinary, cross-departmental, and interactive nature positioned in an area with unique health needs.


Institution: Tulane University
Principal Investigator: Marie A. Krousel-Wood, M.D., M.P.H.

The Tulane BIRCWH program proposes to build on our prior success and expand and reinforce the BIRCWH program base. The long-term goal is to increase the number and diversity of highly trained culturally competent, independent, interdisciplinary investigators in women’s health with an emphasis on sex differences research in the field of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and related diseases. The program focuses on CVD and related diseases because of the impacts of heart disease on women, the existing knowledge gaps on the sex differences in CVD across the research spectrum, and the strength of this focus at Tulane. Key components of our successful career development plan include (1) didactic courses tailored to specific scholar needs; (2) individualized career development training; (3) BIRCWH seminar series; (4) work-in-progress sessions; (5) required grant writing and project management workshops; (6) mentored interdisciplinary research; and (7) responsible conduct in research training. The innovative approach includes tailoring the program to scholars’ needs via two career development tracks (Track 1 for scholars with limited research experience; Track 2 for scholars with prior research experience), and using a network mentoring model for each scholar, including expertise in both basic science and clinical research. Scholars are imme-diately exposed to research and are guided to establish a scholarly track record early, and gain presentation and organization skills by active participation in the Women’s Health Research Day. New components of the enhanced BIRCWH program include additional faculty participation in new disciplines, increased interdisciplinary interactions between basic scientists and clinical researchers through network mentoring, strengthened collaboration with Xavier, a historically Black, less-research-intensive institution, and enhanced access to institutional resources. The scholars will learn cutting-edge research methods and skills from bench (cellular, molecular, and genetics), to bedside (clinical research and clinical trials) to population (epidemiology, prevention, and health services research) and conduct their own research projects in established laboratories/research groups in a mentored, interdisciplinary environment that addresses the most recent ORWH priorities. Scholars’ interdisciplinary research activities will focus on sex differences in CVD and related diseases and their risk factors and address overarching themes (life span, sex/gender determinants, health disparities, and interdisciplinary research).


Institution: University of Maryland, Baltimore
Principal Investigator: Patricia Langenberg, Ph.D.

The primary goal of the University of Maryland’s BIRCWH program is to continue our already highly successful program designed to foster interdisciplinary research in women’s health among junior faculty scholars through a tailored mentoring experience with a team of senior faculty researchers to bridge the gap between prior specialized training and the incorporation of methods and concepts from several disciplines, leading to independent interdisciplinary research careers. To achieve this goal, we have expanded the existing research theme areas of our current program (i.e., women’s health and the brain, the aging woman, and conditions specific to women) to include two others: personalized and genomic medicine, and global health. These themes represent existing research strengths at UMB and are fertile ground for interdisciplinary basic science, translational, behavioral, clinical, epidemiological, and/or health services research. Our BIRCWH scholars are able to draw from a multidisciplinary pool of senior faculty mentors as well as former scholars to form mentor teams that will provide depth and breadth to their training experiences. A unique feature of our program is that our scholars have opportunities to collaborate with faculty from all six of our UMB professional schools: dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.


Institution: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Principal Investigator: Nancy Raymond, Ph.D.

The University of Minnesota BIRCWH program’s overarching goal is to improve the health of diverse women across the lifespan and, by extension, to improve the health of their families and communities in Minnesota, the nation, and the world. Our long-term objectives are to (1) increase the number of interdisciplinary research leaders advancing scientific knowledge in women’s health across the life span and in sex/gender determinants of health; (2) transform the academic environment by increasing the visibility of interdisciplinary women’s health and sex/ gender determinants research; and (3) effect the timely applications of women’s health research findings to practice and policy. The primary components of our career development plan are addressed by our short term goals, including to (1) offer an individualized career development program that provides outstanding didactic and experiential training; (2) strengthen our BIRCWH program through new collaborations and curricular innovations; (3) provide a robust interdisciplinary mentoring program that builds a broad and diverse pool of women’s health research mentors; and (4) promote the success of our scholars through strong program oversight and evaluation. Scholar research projects that are funded will reflect (but not be limited to) our main research focus areas: (1) cancers that occur primarily in women, and sex-specific aspects of other cancers; (2) obesity/eating disorders and their associated medical conditions; (3) substance abuse and associated risk behaviors; and (4) cardiovascular disease (CVD), including sex-specific basic mechanisms and disease presentation. Rationale and design of the program: We will make progress towards achieving the BIRCWH program’s goal by offering a program that increases the number of well-trained, interdisciplinary researchers who focus on women’s health and the effects of biological sex and gender roles on health and disease.

North Carolina

Institution: Duke University
Principal Investigator: Nancy Andrews, M.D.

Duke University, a research-intensive institution, and North Carolina Central University (NCCU), a historically black institution, have united to provide career development of junior faculty in interdisciplinary women’s health research through the renewal of the BIRCWH Award. The long-term goal is to develop the careers of independent women’s health researchers. The Duke/NCCU BIRCWH is a strong, vibrant program that has the leadership and institutional commitment for continued success in the development of junior investigators. The collaboration between Duke and NCCU strengthens our goal of training minority scholars. Our objectives are to (1) develop highly skilled, innovative junior researchers investigating women’s health and the sex/gender elements of health and disease across a woman’s life span through the use of interdisciplinary approaches; (2) foster research on health disparities and diversity and create an environment for the discovery of new insights into pressing minority health problems by promoting interdisciplinary team science and by identifying and recruiting minority scholars; and (3) encourage novel interdisciplinary research on all aspects of women’s health, emphasizing the merits of all scientific categories and methods. The Duke/NCCU BIRCWH program will ensure the availability of a diverse pool of highly trained women’s health researchers to address the nation’s biomedical, behavioral, and clinical needs.


Institution: Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)
Principal Investigators: Daniel Dorsa, M.D., and Jeanne-Marie Guise, M.D., M.P.H.

The overarching goal is to create a stimulating and nurturing environment for junior faculty to develop into leading interdisciplinary research scientists in women’s health; we plan to maintain four scholars per year. Over the last two grant cycles, the Oregon BIRCWH has trained a diverse cadre of researchers who advance basic, biomedical, behavioral, and translational research in women’s health across the life span. OHSU provides a resource-rich environment whose culture promotes interdisciplinary team science. The Oregon BIRCWH has been successful, with scholars receiving approximately $40 million dollars in research funding, publishing over 200 publications, and assuming national leadership positions. The BIRCWH is the only K12 career development program at OHSU specifically dedicated to career development in women’s health research. In this renewal we expand the centers, institutes, and mentors affiliated with the BIRCWH to address all six high priority NIH ORWH research goals and propose the following innovative expansions to (1) develop and promote best practices in mentoring interdisciplinary scientists by (a) providing formal mentorship training, (b) conducting a national BIRCWH survey to identify successful practices in mentoring interdisciplinary scientists, (c) developing and testing tools to support the mentor-mentee relationship locally, and (d) disseminate best practices (lessons and tools) for mentoring nationally; and (2) catalyze the development of women’s health research leaders at the institutional, state, and national level by (a) developing core competencies in women’s health research that incorporate the NIH ORWH research priorities to better define the research needs of the field and target educational research training programs, (b) providing formal leadership training to promote effectiveness of the next generation of women’s health research leaders, (c) disseminating competencies and expanding interdisciplinary research in women’s health through a Statewide Annual Women’s Health Research Conference, and (d) formalizing a program to promote inter-institutional BIRCWH collaborations to advance women’s health research and further programmatic excellence at a national level.


Institution: Pennsylvania State University
Principal Investigator: Carol Weisman, Ph.D.

The goal of the Penn State BIRCWH program is to contribute to the advancement of scholarship in the field of women’s health across the life span, including understanding sex/gender differences relevant to health, by providing mentored research career development for scholars from multiple disciplines who are committed to collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and to translational science. The specific objectives are (1) to recruit eight talented junior faculty investigators during the 5-year renewal period, half of whom will be clinicians and half of whom will be basic scientists; (2) to provide intensive interdisciplinary mentored research career development for a minimum of 2 years, with a career development plan including mentorship by an interdisciplinary team of senior researchers, individualized training plans, and a monthly BIRCWH Seminar series; and (3) to evaluate the progress of each BIRCWH scholar and the success of the program using explicit milestones for the scholars as well as national data. During its first 5 years, the Penn State BIRCWH program established a successful cross-campus interdisciplinary mentoring model involving scholars and mentors from three colleges (Medicine, Health and Human Development, and Liberal Arts) located on two campuses (medical campus and main campus). Mentors are senior investigators in the core research areas of precursors/ consequences of obesity, reproductive health, cancer prevention and patterns of care, and sex and gender issues in health and disease. The notable achievements of these scholars, to date, include 34 peer-reviewed publications based on their BIRCWH research (an average of 2.4 publications per scholar per year); 8 internal grants funded; 6 NIH grants submitted as principal investigator; 3 grants submitted to other external agencies; 3 external grants funded as principal investigator (including 2 NIH grants); and several honors and awards (including a New Investigator Award from the North American Menopause Society and appointment as a consultant to the USDA). The Penn State BIRCWH program has had substantial institutional impact, including providing the cross-campus mentoring model for the newly funded Penn State CTSA and raising awareness of important career development issues for junior women faculty members.

Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Principal Investigators: James Roberts, M.D., and Yoel Sadovsky, M.D.

Our objectives are to build on our unparalleled strength in reproductive sciences and women’s health research, which emanate from Magee-Women’s Research Institute (MWRI) at the geographical center of the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh. MWRI is also adjacent to Magee-Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), one of the nation’s largest and most successful academic health care systems. With nearly 110 researchers fully engaged in basic, translational, behavioral, clinical, and health services research, pursued at the six health sciences schools of the University of Pittsburgh and MWRI’s research facility, we are poised to catalyze training and research in women’s health locally, regionally, and nationally. Using MWRI as the BIRCWH@ Pitt programmatic hub, our women’s health network includes well-established nodes and links throughout our campus. The success of the BIRCWH program, coupled with the reputation of MWRI, has facilitated the integration of women’s health research throughout the entire university. Indeed, the department of internal medicine provides a residency track and fellowship training in women’s health, and the department of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health features an emphasis on women’s health and reproductive epidemiology. This strong university foundation enables us to focus on our long-term objectives of scholars’ education, hands-on training, intense career development toward full academic independence, the attraction of new trainees through intellectual stimulation, the motivation of new collaborative synergies, and the implementation of sustainable women’s health research. A team of mentors with diverse yet complementary skills is assembled based on the scholar’s background and needs, and works with each scholar to achieve her/his didactic, technological, personal, and funding goals.

South Carolina

Institution: Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)
Principal Investigator: Kathleen Brady, M.D., Ph.D.

The overall objective of MUSC’s BIRCWH program is to attract translational scientists in the neuroscience arena to broaden interdisciplinary research related to women’s health in South Carolina and throughout the United States. Since its inception, the MUSC BIRCWH has supported nine scholars, including four Ph.D.s, four M.D.s and one M.D./Ph.D. All of the program graduates are principal investigators or co-investigators on research teams funded by extramural support. The program targets junior faculty who have an interest in developing research careers addressing women’s health and sex/gender issues in the neuroscience area. Scholars will remain in the program for a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 4 years, depending on their level of training and experience at entry. We plan to have five scholars in the program at any point in time, four supported by the BIRCWH program and one under-represented minority scholar supported by an institutional commitment from the Dean of the College of Medicine. The substantial expertise in translational neuroscience at MUSC assures our ability to mentor individuals and contribute significantly to the understanding and treatment of women’s health issues related to brain and behavior across the life span. Our 24 mentor-eligible faculty members from 4 health professional colleges (Medicine, Nursing, Health Professions, and Pharmacy) have broad skills in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, especially pertaining to neurodegenerative disorders, stroke, age-related dementia and cognitive decline, substance abuse, depression, and other mood and anxiety disorders.


Institution: Vanderbilt University
Principal Investigator: Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D.

The goal of the Vanderbilt BIRCWH scholars program is to increase the pool of well-prepared investigators dedicated to advancing knowledge about women’s health. Our scientific focus is to integrate the study of women’s health and sex/gender differences into thriving research programs across the scientific spectrum in order to actualize personalized prevention, diagnostics, and therapeutics for girls and women. We are building on a tradition of research excellence that includes the ongoing Shanghai Women’s Health Study with 75,000+ participants, a prospective community-based pregnancy cohort of 7,190 women, DNA samples linked with clinical data for more than 132,000 patients, large tissue and biomarker banks, two decades of Medicaid data with record linkage, and numerous other examples of large-scale programs making fundamental discoveries inside and outside the lab. Our 16 former and current scholars conduct research in content areas as diverse as immunologic aspects of lupus, gender differences in outcomes of ICU care, genetic underpinnings of racial disparities in adverse pregnancy outcomes, population-level patterns of exposure to opiates in pregnancy, and influence of iron balance on HIV disease trajectory. Alumni leave the program with an average of 17 total publications and to date have been awarded more than $9 million in extramural research support. BIRCWH scholars are grounded in the fundamentals of women’s health and sex differences research, prepared to lead independent and collaborative research programs, trained to effectively deploy innovative interdisciplinary approaches to attack and solve problems, and committed to pursuing research that brings individualized care for women closer to reality.


Institution: University of Wisconsin–Madison
Principal Investigator: Gloria Sarto, M.D., Ph.D.

The goals of the BIRCWH scholars program at the University of Wisconsin are to (1) to prepare scholars for independent academic research careers studying health equity and health disparities among diverse populations of women, and (2) to increase the diversity of academic leaders in the field of women’s health. We will accomplish these goals by selecting diverse and talented applicants and providing them with dual scientific mentorship with established investigators in both biomedical and behavioral/social sciences. The University of Wisconsin BIRCWH provides interdisciplinary, multifaceted opportunities for research that includes not only biomedical and behavioral sciences, but also investigation into the quality of care, cost, access, and satisfaction with services; causes of and barriers to reducing health disparities; social context; and identification of assessment measures for outcomes. A major strength of the University of Wisconsin proposal is the integration of the BIRCWH scholars into a thriving interdisciplinary research network that focuses on women’s health and health equity and health disparities. This will provide the scholars with role models as well as cutting edge research opportunities, thus fostering their careers as academicians, scientists, and leaders. There is a need to increase public awareness and understanding of the determinants of health, disease, disability, and the opportunities for improvement (Healthy People 2020). Additionally, there is a need to increase the diversity of academic leaders in the field of women’s health research in health equity and disparities including the health status and health outcomes among diverse populations of women, which is the focus of this career development program.

Additional Information

For more information about ORWH Interdisciplinary Initiatives, contact Joan D. Nagel, M.D., M.P.H., Program Director, Interdisciplinary Research Programs; Director, BIRCWH Program; Coordinator, SCOR;

This page last reviewed on December 30, 2013

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