White House launches initiative to advance health research on women
President Biden announced the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research on Monday, led by First Lady Jill Biden and chaired by Dr. Carolyn Mazure, an esteemed leader in the field of women’s health research.
The initiative comes as a response to the alarming underfunding and lack of investment in women’s health research, which has left healthcare providers and women themselves with inadequate tools and information to prevent, diagnose, and treat various conditions specific to women. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, menopause, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and endometriosis, to name a few, have not received the attention they deserve in the research community.
“Every woman I know has a story about leaving her doctor’s office with more questions than answers. Not because our doctors are withholding information, but because there’s just not enough research yet on how to best manage and treat even common women’s health conditions. In 2023, that is unacceptable,” said First Lady Jill Biden in a statement. “Our new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research will help change that by identifying bold solutions to uncover the answers that every woman and her family deserves. We also are calling on congressional leaders, the private sector, research institutions, and philanthropy to join us in taking urgent action to improve the health and lives of women throughout the nation.”
Need for comprehensive data
Women have long been underrepresented and understudied in health research, leading to significant gaps in our understanding of conditions that predominantly affect or impact women differently.
The history of women’s exclusion from health data collection and studies has deep roots. In 1977, the FDA implemented guidelines that effectively banned most women of “childbearing potential” from participating in clinical research studies, primarily in response to the tragic birth defects caused by drugs like thalidomide. The prevailing concern at the time was to protect the most vulnerable populations, which often led to the exclusion of women from research studies. This historical practice has had a lasting impact on women’s health today.
The consequences of this exclusion are still felt today, as women’s health remains a field marked by significant research gaps. There was a prevailing belief that studying men was easier and presented fewer variables, leading to the exclusion of women from many studies. However, recent research challenges this assumption. A new study, for instance, has found that male mice can be more unpredictable than females, debunking century-old assumptions that relied on hormone-related concerns when excluding women from research.
The need for comprehensive data on women’s health, which goes beyond just health for women but also encompasses how common pharmaceuticals affect women, has become increasingly apparent.
The Women’s Health Initiative’s key steps
The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research will play a crucial role in achieving these goals. Through a presidential memorandum, President Biden has directed his administration to take several important steps:
- Establish an initiative: The initiative will consist of executive departments and agencies across the Federal government, including the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, as well as White House offices like the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
- Provide actionable suggestions: Within 45 days, initiative members will provide recommendations for concrete actions that the Biden-Harris Administration can take to improve research on women’s health. These actions will aim to address health disparities and inequities in research and healthcare.
- Prioritize: The initiative will prioritize specific areas of research that could benefit from additional investments, ensuring that resources are directed where they can have the most transformative impact. Priority areas will include research on heart attacks in women and menopause, among others.
- Collaborate with scientific and private sectors: The initiative will foster new partnerships between the public and private sectors and engage philanthropic leaders to drive innovation in women’s health research. The combined efforts of these sectors will contribute to advancing our understanding of women’s health issues.
Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure will serve as Chair of this new White House initiative. As the Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women’s Health Research at Yale School of Medicine, she has spearheaded interdisciplinary research on a wide range of women’s health topics.
The establishment of this woman’s health initiative is a significant step forward in addressing the longstanding underrepresentation and underfunding of research on women’s health. By galvanizing government agencies, private sectors, and philanthropy, this initiative aims to close research gaps, improve healthcare outcomes for women, and ultimately enhance the lives of millions of women across the United States.
“I have always believed in the power of research to save lives and to ensure that Americans get the high-quality health care they need. To achieve scientific breakthroughs and strengthen our ability to prevent, detect, and treat diseases, we have to be bold,” President Biden said in a statement. “That’s why today, we’re establishing a new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research so that my Administration—from the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Defense—does everything we can to drive innovation in women’s health and close research gaps.”