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Emory to lead career development program in women's health research

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Holly Korschun

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) has selected Emory University to lead a career development program for junior investigators interested in pursuing women's health and sex differences research.

The multidisciplinary training program, called Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH), is a highly selective career-development program that connects junior faculty to senior faculty with shared research interests in women's health and sex differences research.

Claire Sterk, PhD, Emory University provost, is principal investigator of the program, including a five-year, $1.56 million grant from the NIH and $625,000 from Emory University. Igho Ofotokun, MD, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases, Emory University School of Medicine, is project director.

The overall goal of the Emory BIRCWH is to develop a structured and diverse research career development program in women's health with a rigorous mentoring component. An interdisciplinary team of established investigators with proven track records in training early career investigators will serve as mentors. Emory's BIRCWH will train eight scholars over the five-year cycle.

"Growing evidence shows that the biological and psychosocial differences between men and women affect disease outcomes and should be considered when designing and analyzing the results of studies in all areas of biomedical and behavioral research," says Sterk. "Emory's BIRCWH program will help train the next generation of scientists focused on this critical aspect of research."

The NIH ORWH established the BIRCWH program in 1999 and has produced more than 500 scholars, the majority of whom are women. The BIRCWH serves as a model for stimulating sex/gender science and for fostering career advancement among early career investigators interested in women's health research. Its three pillars of career development include establishment of an interdisciplinary research environment, a rigorous mentoring component, and structured career development plans.

"The focus of Emory's BIRCWH training will be on infectious diseases, highlighting the global impact of these conditions on women and families, particularly those of ethnic minority background," explains Ofotokun. "This also aligns with the agenda of the NIH ORWH and capitalizes on Emory's multidisciplinary strengths in preventive/predictive health and infectious diseases research. The Emory BIRCWH application had strong support from Emory's deans of medicine, public health, nursing, and graduate school and is structured to train scholars across all schools and departments within the University." 

The Emory BIRCWH program has assembled a strong mentoring team that includes established, well-funded faculty in basic science, public health, and translational research across campus whose work focuses on infectious diseases and is relevant to women's health research. Complementary areas of research focus will include cardiovascular science, bioengineering, osteo-immunology, comparative effectiveness, and health disparity/economy research.

Existing collaborations with scientists at CDC, Georgia Institute of Technology and Morehouse School of Medicine will provide additional mentorship and training opportunities in infection control, antimicrobial resistance, global health, community health, medical device development, nanotechnology and health disparities research.

The Emory BIRCWH program will align with ongoing research efforts within established NIH-funded institutional programs including the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI), the Emory Center for AIDS Research, the Emory AIDS Clinical Trials' Unit, the Emory Vaccine Center, the Women's Interagency HIV Study and the nearby Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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