New Office of Inclusion and Diversity Program focuses on pre-clinical research

Considerations of sex and gender in clinical trials have come a long way since 1993’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act, which required that women be included in all NIH-funded research. More than two decades later, however, NIH Director Francis Collins and Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) Director Janine Clayton lamented in a Nature commentary, “there has not been a corresponding revolution in experimental design and analysis in cell and animal research.”

Now, the new Penn PROMOTES Research on Sex and Gender in Health is leading just such a revolution.

C. Neill Epperson, director of the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness and a professor of psychiatry and obstetrics/gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine, and Tracy Bale, professor of neuroscience in the School of Veterinary Medicine and professor of psychiatry at Penn Medicine, established the new center with a $1.9 million Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) grant. Awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the ORWH, the funding supports a host of initiatives that investigate how diseases affect men and women differently.

Bale says that as co-directors of the BIRCWH grant, she and Epperson “mentor junior faculty scholars in their research and career trajectories,” adding, "Penn PROMOTES also allows us to mentor and advise a wide audience at Penn on how to include sex and gender as biological factors and comparisons in their research.”

One of the inaugural two-year faculty-scholars, Roy Wade, is a Penn Medicine instructor of pediatrics, and the other, Montserrat Anguera, is an assistant professor at Penn Vet. Bale says PROMOTES’ crossover between the School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine “allows us to take studies that are examined at a clinical level and model them in animals such that we can examine the mechanisms involved.”

Many disorders are more common in one sex than the other, and a number of ailments present differently depending upon the sex of the patient.

“No matter what you’re studying, there’s probably some aspect of it for which you should be thinking about potential sex differences,” says Epperson.

In establishing Penn PROMOTES, she says, the University is taking a clear leadership role in this critical area of biomedical research.

Penn PROMOTES is one of five anchor programs in Penn Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity. Eve Higginbotham, vice dean for inclusion and diversity at Penn Medicine, says Penn PROMOTES will enhance the connections being developed by her office.

“If you have synergy, you have a better rationale for funding in perpetuity,” she says. “You can establish the value proposition for these various programs and demonstrate how you’re leveraging the strengths of all the programs to make everything stronger.”