Basic research has driven significant innovation in health care, enabling discoveries that have changed our lives, saved countless individuals, and provided protective and preventative measures that make the developed world as healthy as it has ever been. This year, the National Institute of Health alone will spend $32.3 billion on medical research.
When undertaken effectively, this research can translate into transformative discoveries and medicines, while also having significant economic impact. The power of the discoveries of Jonas Salk, and others have allowed us to lead long and healthy lives, often avoiding the impact of serious diseases and maintaining a level of health our ancestors could have never dreamed. It is estimated that Salk’s polio vaccine alone has saved more than $1.6 trillion in treatment, before even factoring in pain and suffering.
So what if I told you that both research and diagnostic models really only explore half of what they could?
Since the advent of medical research, the default subject has been a male patient. In fact, men outnumber women by two-thirds in cardiovascular disease (“CVD”) clinical trials; a disease which is the number one killer in US women. Even more surprising, for many years, the Food and Drug Administration actually banned women of child-bearing years from being part of medical studies. It was not until 1993 that the National Institute of Health mandated women be included in NIH funded clinical trials to provide a more holistic and thorough approach to research.
Opening research to consider sex-specific options could make a difference in diagnosing, tracking, and ultimately treating diseases that inordinately impact women. Such strides could help allow mothers, daughters and wives an opportunity for a more fulfilled and enriched life through better management of serious chronic diseases and health disorders such as menstrual induced migraines and pregnancy complications. Imagine the impact on the cost of health care to employers if we could find ways to identify certain illnesses in women earlier.
One area where this is clearly pronounced is the field of coronary heart disease. For decades, physicians have been using the male model when diagnosing coronary heart disease, despite clear evidence supporting sex-specific testing. The statistics show that women, on average, develop cardiovascular disease 10 to 15 years later in life than men and that the risk may increase after menopause. This observation has led to much speculation as to what physiological changes associated with menopause are responsible for this risk.
If the medical community could conduct research into biological identifiers exclusive to women, we could begin addressing this gap quickly and effectively. Even better for the companies undertaking such research, if these biological identifiers could be made available without the overhead and significant cost of traditional clinical trials, advances could move even more quickly.
I believe that the omission of women as research subjects is putting women’s health at risk and that we need to fuel a conversation that will improve our healthcare and livelihood. It seems incredible that after hundreds of years of research, no one has isolated this approach, but this provides an opportunity to close the sex gap in medical research quickly, effectively, and economically.
ABOUT ANNA VILLARREAL
Leveraging her legal background and talent as a natural entrepreneur, Anna brings an unparalleled vision and energy to LifeStory Health. Anna has combined her experiences and challenges in business with her passion for women’s health care to create the fundamental building blocks of LifeStory Health. Her vision is compelling, and she has identified a unique niche in the market for consumer-based diagnostics, focused on monitoring the state of women’s health. By sampling menstrual blood as a means of collecting biologically relevant proteins to test for internal health in a non-invasive manner, she is developing a method and business model that promises to influence women’s health care. Under Anna’s leadership and vision LifeStory Health has the potential to materialize into a successful operating public company that would be both profitable for shareholders and positive for women’s public health.