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Studying Sex Differences Provides New Insights into Disease

Posted: February 15, 2013

Tags: About ORWH, Research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) in September 1990 in response to congressional, scientific, and advocacy concerns that health-related decisions for women were based solely on findings from research studies on men. Creating the ORWH heralded earnest efforts by NIH to develop a research agenda to address gaps in scientific knowledge about women's health across the lifespan and to promote the pursuit of investigations with a study design that would explore sex differences in outcomes.

Comparing and contrasting biologic data by sex/gender enriches the analysis and provides multiple dimensions to research findings. This approach can enhance scientific rigor and minimize the risk of erroneous conclusions that do not consider sex differences and similarities when interpreting results. Ultimately, sex and gender analyses provide critical insights about biologic processes that are essential to our scientific understanding of women's health.

Women's health has a direct bearing on the health of their families and their communities, and ultimately, the health of societies. The NIH strategic plan for research on women's health and sex and gender differences pledges the ORWH and our many partners to address opportunities, challenges, and health needs of future generations of girls and women. Our broader vision of women's health and women's health research can benefit both women and men by increasing our understanding of the role sex and gender in health and disease.

Women's health research in cardiovascular disease and stroke, musculoskeletal and immune disorders, and mental health and substance abuse, among many others, reflect enormous progress from the early 1990s when the ORWH was established. There is much more research to do, however, and ORWH is committed to fostering future innovation.

The expansion and success of women's health and sex differences research at NIH are the lasting contributions of Vivian Pinn, M.D., the first full-time director of the ORWH, who retired in August 2011. Many of the ORWH's innovative programs for biomedical researchers would not exist today without Dr. Pinn's tireless efforts. I thank her for her passion and commitment to this office and for laying the foundation we continue to build upon today.

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