Date Posted: June 14, 2021

Headshot of Vivian Pinn.

On May 11–12, 2021, ORWH, in partnership with the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH), hosted the 5th Annual Vivian W. Pinn Symposium, in honor of the office’s first full-time Director, Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., Senior Scientist Emerita at NIH’s Fogarty International Center. This year’s symposium, titled “Integrating Sex and Gender into Biomedical Research as a Path for Better Science and Innovation,” focused on illustrating the scientific, societal, and economic opportunities of integrating sex and gender into biomedical research. Attendees explored strategies to create bridges and capacity across the scientific enterprise to build a broad-based network of government, nonprofit, academic, and business organizations; to integrate sex and gender considerations into the research enterprise; and to apply a multidimensional perspective to women’s health to advance the integration of sex and gender considerations via transdisciplinary approaches and partnerships.

Opening Remarks. Current ORWH Director Janine A. Clayton, M.D., FARVO, set the stage for the symposium by articulating ORWH’s key mission areas of enhancing and expanding women’s health research, ensuring inclusion of women and minority groups in clinical research, promoting advancement for women in biomedical careers, and integrating sex and gender considerations throughout the biomedical research enterprise. Next, President and Executive Director of FNIH Maria C. Friere, Ph.D., described the partnership between FNIH and ORWH, reviewed a few of Dr. Pinn’s many noteworthy accomplishments, and underscored the need to integrate sex and gender into biomedical research to improve the health of women and men. NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., concluded the symposium’s introductory remarks by describing the “high bar” set by Dr. Pinn’s work at ORWH, NIH’s efforts to include diverse populations in scientific study cohorts, the discovery of profound sex differences in gene expression linked to over 50 bodily traits, and the profound influence of the NIH Policy on Sex as a Biological Variable (SABV) throughout the biomedical research community.

Keynote Address. U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania’s 4th District delivered the symposium’s keynote address, in which she discussed efforts to ensure inclusion of women in federally funded scientific studies, the benefit of recruiting and retaining women and people of color in health care, and the progress that has been made in integrating SABV throughout biomedical research. Representative Dean described sex differences in COVID-19 symptoms and outcomes as well as the adverse economic and mental health effects facing women throughout the pandemic. She described her work as a member of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and co-writing an appropriations letter calling for increased consideration of SABV as it pertains to COVID-19 infection and other health conditions. 

Panels and Breakout Sessions. The 2-day symposium featured several thoughtful panel discussions, including the following.  

  • Teach 1 Reach 1: Academia’s Roll Call. Panelists: Arthur P. Arnold, Ph.D.; Leslie Meltzer Henry, J.D., Ph.D., M.Sc.; Kim Templeton, M.D.; moderator Ana Mari Cauce, Ph.D.
  • Moving Beyond Inclusion to Innovation: The Scientific Opportunity. Panelists: Heather Bowerman; Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D.; Charlotte D. Owens, M.D.; Director of the Food and Drug Administration Office of Women’s Health Kaveeta P. Vasisht, M.D., Pharm.D.; Julie M. Zissimopoulos, Ph.D.; moderator Yesmean H. Wahdan, M.D.
  • The Lifecycle of Communicating the Science. Panelists: Thomas F. Babor, Ph.D., M.P.H.; May Berenbaum, Ph.D.; Holly Falk-Krzesinski, Ph.D.; Moira Gunn, Ph.D.; moderator Jessica Miles, Ph.D.
  • Backed by Public Demand. Panelists: Chloe E. Bird, Ph.D.; Paula A. Johnson, M.D., M.P.H.; Carl V. Hill, Ph.D., M.P.H.; Sudip S. Parikh, Ph.D.; moderator Erika Miller, J.D.
  • Government Agencies Call to Action. Panelists: NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Michael Lauer, M.D.; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, M.D.; White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director for Science and Society Alondra Nelson, Ph.D.; Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health member Susan Wood, Ph.D.; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Women’s Health Research Network Director Elizabeth Yano, Ph.D., M.S.P.H.; moderator Jenny Luray, M.P.A.
  • Putting Skin in the Game: The Economic Opportunity. Panelists: Faz K. Bashi, M.D.; Robert M. Califf, M.D.; Anula Jayasuriya, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.; Carolee Lee; Nola Masterson, M.Sc.; moderator Jennifer Friel Goldstein, M.B.A.
  • Societies’ Promise for Improved Science Culture: The Societal Opportunity. Panelists: Gilda A. Barabino, Ph.D.; Shaheen Contractor; Claire Kinzy Lindsey, M.A.; Leon McDougle, M.D., M.P.H.; Jane van Dis, M.D.; moderator Celia J. Maxwell, M.D.
  • Creating Synergistic Partnerships: The Power of Working Together. Panelists: Nakela L. Cook, M.D., M.P.H.; All of Us Research Program CEO Joshua Denny, M.D., M.S.; Phuong Khanh Morrow, M.D.; Amgen Janet Stovall; moderator Kathryn G. Schubert, M.P.P.

The symposium also included two sessions with multiple breakout discussions, each discussion group consisting of experts from Federal agencies; professional scientific, medical, or advocacy organizations; industry and businesses; academic and research institutions; or scientific publishing.

Fireside Chat. Day 1 of the symposium concluded with a “fireside chat” with Dr. Pinn and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. Dr. Fauci commented on how COVID-19 has increased attention to sex and gender differences in medicine. Dr. Pinn discussed her career at ORWH, mentorship, the challenges of being a women of color in medicine, the role of men in women’s health research, women in Government leadership, and ORWH’s research supplements to promote re-entry into biomedical and behavioral research careers.

Symposium Conclusion. Dr. Pinn closed the symposium by emphasizing ORWH’s mission to improve research pertaining to women’s health across the lifespan, from the intrauterine environment to old age. Dr. Pinn also commented on how ORWH’s disease focus has shifted from considering a few diseases—such as heart disease, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids—to focusing on the broad range of diseases and conditions that affect women. In response to the breakout rooms and panel discussions, she called for the continuation of interdisciplinary approaches to researching women’s health and the benefits of collaborations between specialties. She also commented on the need for consideration of sex and gender as they pertain to pandemic-related issues, particularly immune responses, mental health concerns, and workforce issues. Dr. Pinn concluded by lauding the symposium’s presenters, thanking NIH for naming ORWH’s signature event after her, and calling for increased focus on SABV, intersectionality, and gender parity in STEMM leadership.

Resources. ORWH developed a “virtual environment” for the symposium, which includes exhibits, agendas, videos, resources, links, and other materials related to the integration of sex and gender into biomedical research. This environment will remain available until the spring of 2022. In addition, video recordings of day 1 and day 2 of the symposium are available on the NIH VideoCasting website.