WASHINGTON – Until recently, a large percentage of medical knowledge came from studies of predominantly male populations, but slowly, the scientific community has realized the need for research focusing specifically on women. The new special “Advancing Women’s Health” issue of Clinical Chemistry, the journal of AACC, showcases nearly 50 studies that close the gap between men’s and women’s healthcare by shedding light on how heart disease, cancer, reproductive problems, and other common health issues manifest differently in women than in men at the molecular and genetic level.
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“So, what is different about women’s health?” asks issue editor Ann M. Gronowski, PhD, of the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, in the preamble to “Advancing Women’s Health.” “Women have a unique physiology and set of health conditions that arise from different reproductive organs as well as pregnancy. They also may differ in their risk for developing, and their response to, diseases that are common to both men and women. It is clear that more research is needed to understand these differences so that the screening, treatment, and monitoring of health outcomes in women may be optimized.”
As Gronowski notes, this disparity in health risks does not arise from genetics alone, but also from societal factors such as limited access to healthcare due to women having a lower average income and greater difficulty affording healthcare.
One prominent example of the sex-based health disparities women experience is that heart disease is underdiagnosed and undertreated in women compared with men. This special women’s issue of Clinical Chemistry features breaking research and expert analyses that examine whether using different criteria for blood tests to diagnose heart disease in women might solve this problem.
Women also have a higher risk than men of developing cancer before the age of 60 due to breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Two new studies in this issue have uncovered promising new biological molecules that could reduce breast cancer deaths by increasing early breast cancer diagnosis, and predicting relapses or metastasis in newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients.
In addition to the latest research in women’s health, Clinical Chemistry’s women’s health issue features a fascinating interview with Nancy Andrews, MD, PhD, about the career path that led her to become dean of Duke Medical School. Surprisingly, no woman had ever helmed a top ten medical school before Andrews took office at Duke only 7 years ago, in 2007. In light of this dearth of female representation among leaders of the medical field, it is not surprising that it has taken so long for medical research to focus on women. This is another barrier to healthcare equality for both genders that women like Andrews are now starting to break through.
“Interestingly, my daughter who is now applying to medical school and considered doing an MD-PhD program decided not to because she was told it would be difficult to have a normal work family balance,” said Andrews, when asked why women don’t pursue careers in academic medicine. “I was shocked that of all people she would believe that. But that message is still being delivered to undergraduates and it’s really disturbing. I was lucky when I was young ... I was a funny mix of accepting limits but at the same time being oblivious to the fact that some of the things I liked to do, women didn’t seem to be doing.”
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Dedicated to achieving better health through laboratory medicine, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) brings together more than 50,000 clinical laboratory professionals, physicians, research scientists, and business leaders from around the world focused on clinical chemistry, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, translational medicine, lab management, and other areas of breaking laboratory science. Since 1948, AACC has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing programs that advance scientific collaboration, knowledge, expertise, and innovation. For more information, visit www.myadlm.org.