The Magee-Womens Research Summit is designed to attract innovators from around the world to tackle key issues influenced by the early stages in life:
9 Months of Pregnancy: Profound Impact on Health and Wellness
At Magee-Womens Research Institute, our vision is 9-90: we pursue a robust research strategy into the influence of the 9 months of pregnancy on disease risk over the subsequent 90+ years
Humankind in the 21st century faces an increased prevalence of chronic diseases, which affect our health, wellness, and our economy.
Scientific investigation in the last 30 years has expanded our view of disease development and the understanding that early human development during pregnancy and infancy play a key role in the risk of many chronic adult diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and their consequences.
Biological, medical, nutritional, environmental and social determinants of health coalesce during the critical formative gestational period, and re-program the future child for a course after childbirth that shapes wellness and disease for a lifetime.
Increasing Investments in Research to Accelerate Innovation
Although these developmental underpinnings of health should inform individuals, healthcare providers and public policy, the developmental principles and consequences of feto-placental health have been understudied. Opportunities stemming from discoveries in early human development have not been realized and have not been translated into a meaningful reduction in disease burden.
One example of a modifiable risk to pregnancy outcome and long-term health is inappropriate nutrition, with its subsequent extremes of weight. Nutritional imbalances impact every aspect of reproductive health, from egg and sperm quality before fertilization to common adverse pregnancy outcomes. There are profound and persistent race disparities in respect to weight disorders in pregnancy, with African American women exhibiting the highest risk of obesity and obesity-related pregnancy complications.
While the importance of women to families and communities is now recognized, the unique and vital role of women in affecting the lifelong health of the next generation through its earliest stages of development underscores an even bigger societal impact of women’s health.
Paving the Way for a Global Research Agenda
In recognizing new investigative opportunities, Magee-Womens Research Institute is now positioned to pursue a robust strategy for research into complex determinants of early human development that affect societal health and wellness.
Our 9-90 research trajectory will pave the way for a global research agenda that maximizes access to existing biological, behavioral, and social datasets and enables meaningful international collaborations. Our approach is transdisciplinary, integrating diverse developmental models for a deeper understanding of human health and harnessing the power of modern biological and behavioral disciplines in shedding light on the origins of chronic diseases. Further, our investigation will enable us to broadly disseminate public health recommendations. Importantly, it will change the training landscape, attracting bright young minds to the field of early human development.
Translating Discovery to Directly Benefit the Health of Humankind
Partnering with pharma, life sciences and technology companies that share our vision will be critical to our efforts. They bring unique expertise and resources that will accelerate our progress in translating discovery into disease diagnostics, treatment and prevention strategies that promote wellness regionally, nationally and globally.
Together, our 9-90 vision will improve the health and wellness of all women and men through better understanding of early human development, and the impact on health and wellness of all members of our society.
Scientists have historically used health data primarily from men to draw conclusions about women. There was an assumption made that biological differences didn’t matter, but researchers have discovered that biology does matter. Women and men are fundamentally different by many parameters that go beyond X and Y chromosomes, sex hormones and the reproductive system.
Sexual identity is influenced by the activity of multiple genes and their interaction with the environment. Some genes are only active in one sex and many genes are more active in one sex or the other and this and affects almost every organ system in our body.
While some diseases are sex specific, like prostate cancer and ovarian cancer, complicated genetic, physiological and hormonal factors are often at work in both sexes for many other diseases. For example, women face unique threats due to hormones, reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Further, some diseases that we might not think of as affecting men and women differently can be sex-biased, meaning their rate of occurrence, manifestations, diagnosis, and even mortality rates are different in men and women.
Scientists have also recently realized that medications also affect each sex differently. Because a level of medication works well for a large man, you cannot simply lower the dosage for a much smaller female and assume that it is the correct level. Another major factor that must be considered is that medications can be metabolized at a different rate in men and in women, and thus they may have a higher or lower concentration in women, which can be problematic, or even toxic.
Unfortunately, treatment, management and prevention of many health conditions that affect women and men differently — often still follow the one-size-fits-all approach.
At Magee-Womens Research Institute, we investigate women’s health issues with a different lens. We are studying the sex differences between women and men throughout life’s many complex stages, from 9 months of pregnancy – 90+ years. We are committed to gaining a deep understanding of these differences as they relate to wellness, risk factors and transitions to disease. This will enable us to accelerate the pace of translational research and redefine health and wellness for both sexes.
Babies born in the US today are likely to live to be 100 years old. What will be their quality of life in their later years?
The New Era of Precision Medicine
Until recently it has been virtually impossible to target diagnostics, treatment and disease prevention based on an individual’s genetic makeup, exposures and lifestyle. However, rapid advances in biology and medicine are paving the way for longer, healthier lives. This new era of precision medicine is focused on keeping people well and preventing their transitions into disease states.
Foundational to precision medicine are big data and analytics, which enable the integration of millions of data points from each individual. Such large, individualized datasets are searchable, and enable scientists to take a giant step forward in understanding what it truly means to be well, and re-define disease risk, onset and progression across the lifespan. Harnessing big data for precision medicine is transforming health care and is opening a new world of possibilities in women’s health.
Leading the Way in Women’s Health Research
While we tend to think about aging as a process that affects us when we are old, the process of aging can occur throughout the lifespan. Even prior to birth, the placenta ages as the nine months of pregnancy are near completion. Ovaries may prematurely age, causing infertility and hormone deficiency even before the common age of menopause. Other organ systems may also age at an individualized pace.
At Magee-Womens Research Institute, we take a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to scientific discovery and we use the tools and technologies of biological and clinical investigation and precision medicine to tackle complex biological questions related to aging across the lifespan.
Our multidimensional research spans disciplines from molecular biology to epidemiology and clinical research, organisms from worms to mice and humans, and processes from early embryonic development to older adults. We have also established the Magee Obstetrical Maternal-Fetal database and biobank, encompassing more than 20 years of rich clinical information and datasets, designed to assist in better understanding of development, disease risk and aging across the lifespan. Magee is also home to one of the largest Cancer Network registries in the United States.
Magee’s pioneering research assesses health issues women face across their lifetimes, from infectious diseases like HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to pelvic floor dysfunction and ovarian cancer. We have teams of investigators focused on pregnancy and the influence of developmental underpinnings of health and disease, sex differences throughout life’s many complex stages, as well as sexual health, infertility, menopause and related conditions.
We know that genetics, genomics, environment and social determinants all contribute to health. Further, understanding the scientific underpinnings of wellness and disease are essential to accelerating discovery and enabling new approaches to biomarker discovery and drug targets, and even new insights into mechanisms of disease transition.
While precision medicine is still in its infancy, it is already revolutionizing biology and medicine. In the years ahead, we may have our genomes mapped, and integrated with globally accessible health data. This fundamental shift to a more proactive and personalized approach will enable us to identify diseases at a very early stage, long before the onset of symptoms. It will allow us to live longer, more productive lives focused on optimizing wellness and avoiding disease, and, in turn, it will empower women and communities everywhere.