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11 September 2000

Grant to Strengthen Women's Health Research

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant to UCSF and to the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland to create a scholarship program to train young investigators and bolster research in women's health.

Many of the investigators chosen for this program, called the Women's Health Interdisciplinary Scholarship Program for Research (WHISPR), will be women, said Deborah Grady, MD, UCSF professor of epidemiology and medicine and scholarship program director. The UCSF/Kaiser program is one of 12 nationwide to receive a portion of the $6 million per year that the NIH has dedicated to this effort.

"Research in women's health is mushrooming and this creates exciting opportunities for young clinicians and trainees," said Steven Cummings, MD, assistant dean for clinical research at UCSF and principal investigator for WHISPR. "The NIH program is the first nationwide effort to train new faculty to do clinical research in women's health. It is the first major collaboration between UCSF and Kaiser to train researchers. We are excited because UCSF and Kaiser are national leaders in women's health and we are a rich place for young faculty to begin successful careers."

Joseph Selby, MD, MPH, director of Kaiser's division of research will lead the program at that institution.

"There is a perceived need from the NIH to address some clear inadequacies in research in women's health. And there is a dearth of women doing women's health research," Grady said. "The idea of this program is two-fold: to increase the amount of quality research in women's health and to increase the number of women doing clinical research."

The program is geared to clinical researchers who are at the beginning of their careers, have some training in research methods and have a strong interest in women's health. The program will provide scholars with salary support, coursework drawn from UCSF's Clinical Research Training Program and Program in Biomedical Science, and help with research and publishing papers.

A key component of this program is mentoring, Grady said. "It's hard for young investigators to get mentoring and on-the-job training," she said. "Participants in this program will have tremendous support from an established research group. For example, in osteoporosis, there are multiple senior investigators who have large and rich data sets that the investigators can use to publish from."

Twelve senior investigators, seven of whom are women, will serve as mentors. All have successful research careers in women's health or relevant chronic diseases and a strong track record of training and mentoring.

The 12 program research areas are: cardiovascular, breast cancer, skeletal health, neuropsychiatric disorders (dementia and depression), substance abuse, urinary incontinence, HIV in women, sex hormones, woman's imaging (the use of radiologic and other tests specifically designed to diagnose or evaluate diseases of women, such as mammography and transvaginal ultrasound to evaluate the uterus and ovaries), complementary and alternative medicine, health services research and aging.

Scholarships will generally last for two or three years, but scholars can extend this time if they have parental and caregiving responsibilities and need more time to complete the program as a result. The UCSF/Kaiser program will train about two to three fellows each year.

Grady said this program could lend the help many young investigators need to become top-level researchers in their field. This program, she said, will result in more senior investigators doing research in women's health.

"I think that UCSF already has been able to attract quite a number of very promising post-graduate fellows who receive training in clinical research," Grady said. "But it is very hard to make a move from that level to national recognition in their area of interest and to attain independent funding. It's a difficult leap for everybody, but particularly for women who have traditionally had more family responsibilities and less mentoring."

Often, junior faculty must scramble to find funding for their research and to pay for part or all of their salaries, Grady said. They have to take on more projects and teaching hours to make ends meet. "This program frees them up to spend time publishing papers, completing their didactic education and writing grants to acquire their own independent research funding," Grady said. "In order to be a successful clinical researcher, you have to be able to obtain funding, publish and acquire a national reputation."

Funding for this program begins in the fall of this year. UCSF and Kaiser will receive $500,000 each year for five years and will recruit locally and nationally for the program, Grady said.


National Institutes of Health NIH press release
UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women's Health
Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

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