NIH awards grant to UCSF and Kaiser to strengthen women's health research

By Leslie Harris

In an effort to strengthen women’s health research in a variety of disciplines,
the National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant to the University of
California, San Francisco and to the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in
Oakland to create a scholarship program to train young investigators in women’s
health and bolster research in this area.

Many of the scholars 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. UCSF/Kaiser is one of 12 sites nationwide to
receive a portion of the $6 million per year the NIH has dedicated to this
effort. Steven Cummings, MD, assistant dean for clinical research at UCSF and
professor of medicine, is the principle investigator for WHISPR.

“Research in women’s health is mushrooming and this creates exciting
opportunities for young clinicians and trainees,” Cummings said. “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 toward junior faculty-clinical researchers who are in the
beginning of their career, 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

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

This new program builds on the research successes of both UCSF and Kaiser in
women’s health. Nationally and internationally renowned women’s health scholars
can be found in almost every school, department and research unit at UCSF. This
breadth of expertise is supported by a nationally recognized clinical program
in women’s health, a commitment to the promotion of women as leaders, efforts
to restructure the medical school curriculum to integrate women’s health and
strong long term relationships with communities caring for and about women.

Because of this broad agenda, UCSF was one of the first six centers designated
a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health by the Department of Health
and Human Services Public Health Service Office on Women’s Health in 1996.
Additionally, US News and World Report magazine ranked UCSF number two in women’
s health in its April 2000 issue as part of the magazine’s annual listing of
top medical schools and medical specialty training programs in the United
States. ‘

Kaiser’s Division of Research for Northern California has conducted
epidemiological, clinical and health services research since its founding in
1961 and a large number of its 40 full-time scientists devote all or part of
their research careers to the study of women’s health. The DOR has access to
the clinical service records of the 2.9 million members of the Kaiser
Permanente Medical Care Program in Northern California and has adopted an
organizational priority of being the health care provider of choice for women
in California.

“Research on women’s health issues is an important piece of the research
activity in our department,” Selby said. “We see this traineeship as an
opportunity to expand this research further, to help Kaiser address the many
important questions in this area, and to provide research training
opportunities to interested clinicians leaders, both within and outside of our