We need to talk about Women’s Health!

Closing the knowledge gaps across health and disease research and practice

From social infrastructure and economic empowerment, to employment policies and representation, the disparities between men and women’s experiences are stark across the globe. In the context of healthcare, this is underscored by knowledge gaps across many areas of women’s health. Despite affecting more of 50% of the world’s population, and the profound impact on global economies, women’s health continues to fall short due to:

  • Research gaps in how certain disorders and diseases disproportionally impact women.
  • Data gaps, due to a lack of female representation in clinical studies.
  • Lack of funding, particularly in areas that fall outside of reproductive health.

Women spend 25% more time in “poor health” than men.

Closing the Women’s Health Gap: A $1 Trillion Opportunity to Improve Lives and Economies, (World Economic Forum Insight Report, January 2024). 

Particular challenges for women include health disparities, cancer prevention and access to treatment, sex differences in health and disease, and healthy ageing

Professor Martha Hickey, University of Melbourne, Australia

Science has an important role to play in addressing gender inequities in health. Ensuring research appropriately considers sex and gender from cell based research through to clinical studies, supports better understanding of disease mechanisms, enabling the development of effective therapies for both chronic and life threatening health conditions.

For millennia, medicine has functioned on the assumption that male bodies can represent humanity as a whole. As a result, we have a huge historical data gap when it comes to female bodies, and this is a data gap that is continuing to grow as researchers carry on ignoring the pressing ethical need to include female cells, animals and humans, in their research.

Caroline Criado Perez, Author of Invisible Women

How do we bridge this gap in science? 

Technological advances, new genomics approaches, improved modelling techniques, as well as better data analysis, supports new research opportunities, focusing specifically on how disease effects female physiology, and therefore the female experience of health challenges.

Developmental biologists now have the tools to investigate cellular changes and disease mechanisms, to gain insights into how many aspects of health, including cancer, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, metabolic disorders, and neurological diseases specifically impact women. This has the potential to improve early diagnosis and the development of less invasive, and more effective, treatments.

Genetic studies have already made an enormous contribution to women’s health in areas such as cancer risk detection, differences in treatment response and prognosis

Professor Martha Hickey, University of Melbourne, Australia

But this is only half the battle!  

Translating new research insights into tangible and transformative societal benefit, relies on data and discovery scientists, healthcare professionals, funders and policymakers coming together to discuss all aspects of women’s health, learn from each other, and commit to influencing policy and changing patriarchal infrastructures.

Initiatives such as the Science Sex and Gender Equity (MESSAGE) project, provide a strong framework to inspire the discussion on better sex and gender integration into scientific research. Prioritising a combined effort to set the agenda is crucial for all those scientists involved in disease research and clinical care.

Environments for knowledge exchange to stimulate improvements 

At Wellcome Connecting Science, we provide inclusive learning and training environments in genomics for scientists to exchange knowledge and spark new thinking, inspiring improvements to global human health.

We are hosting a brand new conference focusing on Women’s Health: Genes, Data and Advancing Approaches, taking place 27-29 January 2025. This meeting, developed by leading scientists at the intersection of research and innovation, will provide a platform for scientists, researchers, and clinicians to discuss the women’s health agenda and define the priorities.

Click here to sign up for updates about the conference. 

Stay tuned for more: next month, members of our scientific programme committee for the conference will share their thoughts on the women’s health agenda and emerging priorities.

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