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NIH awards Emory $7.4 million SCORE grant for center of excellence in research on sex differences

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Holly Korschun

ATLANTA—Through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant of $7.49 million over five years, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Emory University is working to make the routine inclusion of sex as a biological variable a scientific cultural norm in biomedical research. The grant includes designation as a Specialized Center of Research Excellence (SCORE).

“Our goal is to make Emory University a regional hub for studying the influence that biological sex plays in the prevention, presentation, treatment and outcomes of disease in humans,” says study Principal Investigator Igho Ofotokun, MD, MSc (Medicine/ Infectious Disease).

“In prompting a deeper examination of how research findings may differ across the sexes, we hope to illuminate previously unsuspected gaps in knowledge so that those may be filled through new lines of rigorous research,” adds SCORE co-PI Lisa Haddad, MD, MPH (Medicine/Gynecology and Obstetrics). “Our ultimate aim is to improve data-driven decisions that affect women’s health regionally, nationally and globally.”

In the spirit of “One Emory: Engaged for impact,” the grant brings together researchers from Emory’s Schools of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing and Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and is led by a three-person team that includes Ofotokun, Haddad and Kimbi Hagen, EdD (Public Health /Behavioral Science and Health Education).

“The overarching goal of the Emory SCORE is to advance the quality of women’s health research by leveraging Emory’s rich, collaborative and interdisciplinary research environment to grow NIH and other externally funded research in this field,” says Hagen. “Emory has an extraordinary number of organizations, research projects and people who are dedicated to advancing health in women and the SCORE looks forward to working synergistically with them all.”

During its first project period, the Emory SCORE’s research support will focus on infectious diseases, using HIV as a working model, to highlight the global burden of these conditions in women, align with the priorities of the NIH Office of Women’s Health Research, and capitalize on Emory’s deep strengths in HIV translational research, basic immunology and anti-viral drug development.

For example, the SCORE Biostatistical Resource Core headed by Lance Waller, PhD, and Christina Mehta, PhD (Public Health) is supporting the implementation of three interdisciplinary research projects that will use HIV host-pathogen interactions as a model for exploring the influence of sex on the pathology and pathogenesis of infectious disease in the brain, heart and bones. These include:

  • The effect of HIV on chronic inflammation in traumatized women (Gretchen Neigh, PhD, and Vas Michopoulos, PhD: Yerkes)
  • Cardiovascular risk in women with HIV (Arshed Quyyumi, MD and Leslee Shaw, PhD: Medicine)
  • The effect of estrogen deficiency on bone loss associated with HIV antiretroviral therapy (Igho Ofotokun, MD, and Neale Weitzmann, PhD: Medicine)

Under the leadership of Marcia Holstad, DSN, RN (Nursing) and Kelli Hall, PhD (Public Health) the Emory SCORE will also implement a Career Enhancement Core that will provide mentoring and direct funding of pilot projects and smaller awards with an aim of fostering the careers of junior investigators working in multiple areas of sex and gender science.

“As people live longer with HIV infection due to successful therapy, the need to explore the sex-differentiated risk for and impact of infectious diseases continues to grow, but – while central -- that is only one goal of the SCORE,” says Ofotokun. “Our interdisciplinary SCORE team is ultimately committed to using multiple avenues of research support, career enhancement, collaboration and education to address the larger scientific challenge of advancing considerations of sex as a biological variable across all fields of biomedical research at Emory.”

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