Emory receives $3.17 million from the NIH to strengthen career development in women’s health research

Emory University has received a $3.17 million funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue 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.

The Emory BIRCWH received initial funding from the NIH in 2015, and junior faculty from Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, the Rollins School of Public Health and the School of Medicine have been supported through the program. Of note, all BIRCWH Scholars at Emory University to date have gone on to obtain their own NIH funding as PIs in excess of $16 million during the initial five years of funding.

Claire E. Sterk, PhD, President Emerita and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Public Health and Igho Ofotokun, MD, MSc, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine are co-principal investigators of the Emory BIRCWH Program. 

“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 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 nine scholars over the five-year cycle.

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,” says 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, graduate school and leadership of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and is structured to train scholars across all schools and departments within the University.”  

The Emory BIRCWH program will align with ongoing research efforts within established NIH-funded institutional programs including the Georgia Clinical and Translational Research Institute (Georgia CTSA), the Emory Center for AIDS Research, the Emory AIDS Clinical Trials’ Unit, the Emory Vaccine Center, the MACS/WIHS Combined Cohort Study and the nearby Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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