: First Research Grants from Recent Donaghue Foundation Grant Earmarked for a Variety of Women's Health Issues

The Ethel F. Donaghue Women’s Health Investigator Program at Yale School of Medicine recently announced its first round of grants for studies of women’s health. These are the first awards made since the program received a $6.5 million grant from The Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation.

“This new and unique research program, which will provide grants yearly to Yale and Yale-affiliated investigators over the next five years, was created to advance women’s health research and to develop new cutting edge areas of investigation that will result in direct practical benefit for women,” said Carolyn M. Mazure, professor of psychiatry and director of the research program.

This year’s grants will focus on the study of breast and ovarian cancer, lupus, infertility, burning mouth syndrome after menopause, effects of estrogen on the cardiovascular system, as well as on treatment options for women athletes, new interventions for teen mothers, the influence of gender on recovery from bypass surgery, and violence in domestic relationships.

Investigators from more than 20 Yale departments submitted more than 80 applications requesting nearly $10 million, an amount that far exceeded the $900,000 available this year. “This response reflects a growing recognition of the importance of research in women’s health, a traditionally understudied area with many unanswered questions,” Mazure said.

The funded areas of study “begin the process of changing both the health and heath care of women, and represent an exciting cornerstone for our Program,” Mazure said. The 1998 Donaghue Women’s Health Investigator Award recipients and their areas of study are:

– Aydin Arici, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who will study how estrogen protects the blood vessel walls from degeneration in women with cardiovascular disease. The goal is to develop a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of estrogen action, which may lead to development of improved estrogenic substances providing more targeted cardiovascular interventions for women.

– Linda M. Bartoshuk, Ph.D., professor of surgery, who will study burning mouth syndrome, an intense oral pain that afflicts about one in six postmenopausal women. The study will identify and characterize those at risk, and test a drug therapy which may provide effective treatment to ease the pain of this syndrome.

– Priscilla S. Dannies, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, is seeking ways to improve the survival rate of women suffering from ovarian cancer. Specifically, she will study whether certain estrogen antagonists combined with chemotherapy can induce ovarian cancer cell death. This knowledge will enhance the use of these agents in clinical settings.

– Marc Galloway, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation, is investigating how to improve the surgical recovery of women athletes who undergo knee surgery. Laboratory studies suggest that pain threshold and immune responses vary according to the menstrual cycle. This study will determine if surgical outcomes can be improved by correlating surgical procedures with the time of the menstrual cycle. The study will also examine differences in social support and adherence to exercise regimens for men and women, both of which have been shown to influence the rate of recovery.

– Bruce G. Haffty, M.D., associate professor of therapeutic radiology, is trying to determine whether women who carry the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a higher risk of local recurrences in conservatively-treated breast cancer. The results will provide information to women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer who carry the genetic mutations, so they can make more informed decisions about options for treatment.

– Harvey Kliman, M.D., Ph.D., a research scientist in obstetrics and gynecology, is seeking predictors of successful embryo implantation in infertile couples. More than 10 percent of reproductive age couples suffer from infertility and, in 20 to 25 percent of such couples, there is no proven cause. Implantation success predictors are likely to lead to a better understanding of the causes of infertility in women and to improved efficacy and reliability of embryo transfer.

– John M. Leventhal, M.D., professor of pediatrics, is studying whether a volunteer-based, home-visit program can improve the health, social functioning, and parenting of young inner-city mothers. Trained volunteers, who will be matched with pregnant women between the ages 15 to 25 who are receiving care at Yale-New Haven Hospital, will provide practical advice about parenting and meeting the mother’s social and economic needs. The study will determine if this type of intervention can improve the success of these young mothers.

– Mark J. Mamula, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine (rheumatology), is investigating systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an immunologic disease of unknown causes that afflicts primarily women. The study will examine how specific cellular proteins or antigens become targeted for attack by the immune system. Mamula hopes to identify autoantigenic candidates that may initiate this autoimmune cascade and provide a first step for intervention in this disease.

– Nina S. Stachenfeld, Ph.D., research scientist in the John B. Pierce Laboratory, is examining the actions of estrogen and progesterone on the systems that regulate body fluid balance. Researchers suspect that female sex hormones increase disease susceptibility and progression in post-menopausal women. Understanding of body fluid regulation could lead to the eventual prevention or treatment of a variety of chronic diseases that specifically affect women.

– Suzanne Swan, Ph.D., associate research scientist in the department of psychiatry, plans to study the conditions under which women use violence in domestic relationships. Evidence suggests women become violent in self-defense, out of fear, and as a response to violence perpetrated against them; however, such action often results in more violent retaliation. Swan hopes to understand these patterns in order to develop and implement domestic violence intervention and prevention programs for women.

– Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and public health, will study whether women benefit from coronary bypass surgery to the same extent as men in terms of symptom relief and functional and psychosocial recovery. This study will improve the ability of healthcare professionals to counsel female patients, enhance decision-making for women considering bypass surgery, and develop interventions to improve women’s recovery after bypass surgery.

These projects are led by Yale investigators with collaborations developed across departments and disciplines, in conjunction with researchers from other major institutions, and with the help of community clinicians. The program is soon to announce its second call for applications during the fall of 1998. Contact the Program Office at 737-1953 or e-mail charleen.bertolini@yale.edu for more information.

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