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  November 6, 2000

Women's Health Research Bolstered by NIH Grant

Research on women's health issues - from the basic science of bone biology of osteoporosis to gender differences in health and illness - will be strengthened at the UConn Health Center by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The Health Center is one of 11 academic institutions nationwide, and the only dental school, to receive funding from a new NIH initiative to vastly increase the number of researchers in women's health fields. The University of Connecticut Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health will establish rigorous scholar-tracks for women's health projects and will mentor junior researchers in an interdisciplinary scientific setting by pairing them with senior investigators.

The UConn Health Center, with its strong academic and research programs through the medical school, dental school, graduate programs in biomedical science and public health, as well as University resources like the School of Allied Health and Women's Studies Program at Storrs, proved to be an ideal match for this program, researchers said.

"I'm very proud of the work of UConn Health Center researchers to obtain this prestigious funding, and especially proud of the institution's commitment to advance research, and ultimately our understanding, about health issues that are unique to women," said U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), whose district includes the Health Center.

She also had words of praise for a recently secured, four-year, $900,000 NIH grant to sustain the Core Laboratory within the General Clinical Research Center. This will allow researchers to access state-of-the-art molecular technology to try to determine the genetic basis for disease.

"Both of these grants will propel new learning and help to keep the UConn Health Center at the cutting edge of 21st century medical research," Johnson added.

Through the women's health research center, three scholars will be selected at the Health Center to devote 75 percent of their time to independent research in aspects of women's health. Scholars will work closely with accomplished senior Health Center faculty, including nationally recognized leaders in areas such as infertility, aging, alcoholism, and autoimmune disorders.

Scholars will be selected through a highly competitive process. Health Center investigators note that the availability of these scholar positions will make the Health Center a more attractive environment in recruiting highly qualified junior faculty.

"This funding will substantially enhance women's health research at the University," said Susan Reisine, the principal investigator on this grant. Reisine, a medical sociologist, is chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Health and director of research for the School of Dental Medicine. She has extensive experience in interdisciplinary research projects including national research on the impact of chronic illness on women's lives.

The co-investigator for the women's health research center is Lawrence Raisz, program director of the General Clinical Research Center at the Health Center, who has been active in the training of clinical and laboratory investigators for more than 40 years. The program director is Judith Fifield, an associate professor in the department of family medicine and director of its research programs.

Reisine said the research center will consolidate current efforts in women's health research, including research at Storrs, providing an opportunity not only for training a cadre of junior investigators, but also for bringing together investigators for basic, clinical and socio-behavioral settings under one structure.

"The Center will focus not only on diseases that affect women but also on gender differences in biological, behavioral and societal risk factors for illness and disability. Such an approach will truly provide interdisciplinary training in women's health," Reisine said.

The center will draw on research strengths in bone and skeletal biology; addictions and mental health; reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases; and gender roles.

Skeletal and Bone Biology: Over the past 25 years, faculty from the medical and dental schools have developed strong research expertise in osteoporosis, skeletal formation, and bone remodeling. Substantial expertise has been developed in areas including arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and temporomandibular joint pain. In addition, major advances have been made by federally funded research initiatives through the UConn Center on Aging and the Lowell P. Weicker Jr. General Clinical Research Center.

Addiction Research and Mental Health: The Alcohol Research Center at the Health Center is one of 15 in the country and has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1976. Clinical and biological research through the center concentrates on cellular and molecular studies of acute and chronic effects of alcohol, susceptibility for developing alcoholism and other drug dependence, and effective treatments. The Department of Psychiatry is engaged in studies on the efficacy of new pharmacological treatments for major depressive disorders, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reproductive Health and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Ongoing research at the Health Center is looking into the molecular pathogenesis of syphilis, as well as research to target novel antiviral therapies to treat the herpes simplex virus. Advanced reproductive specialists are studying the causes of infertility and premature ovarian failure.

Gender Studies: Research at the Health Center is currently looking at issues including women and illness; women and aging; and the effects of gender and class structure on wellness. The Women's Studies Program at Storrs, an interdisciplinary academic program devoted to the critical analysis of gender, will enrich and complement work at the Health Center.

"This coordinated women's health research center will build upon our existing research strengths in basic, clinical and socio-behavioral areas. In turn, it will help to foster advances in the field, and will ultimately lead to improvements in care for women," said Peter J. Deckers, dean of the School of Medicine. "This goes to the heart of academic medicine and our mission at the Health Center."

Maureen McGuire