FY 2007 NIH Research Priorities for Women’s Health

The mission of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) is to stimulate and encourage meritorious research on women’s health, including the role of sex and gender in health and disease.  Each year, the ad hoc Research Subcommittee of the Coordinating Committee on Research on Women’s Health (CCRWH), composed of representatives from the NIH institutes and centers, considers continuing gaps in knowledge, and emerging scientific opportunities for current research priorities in women’s health. The Subcommittee’s recommendations are reviewed and approved by the CCRWH and the Advisory Committee on Research on Women's Health (ACRWH).

 Research opportunities are described in terms of overarching themes, areas of research interest, and special emphasis areas.  The priorities signify approaches and areas for which there is a need to stimulate and encourage research on women’s health, or sex/gender factors, and the advancement of women in biomedical research careers.  These research priorities are not an exclusive list of research areas important to women’s health, therefore other innovative or significant research areas should also be considered.


The following four overarching themes are important for addressing research on women’s health: Lifespan, Sex/Gender Determinants, Health Disparities/Differences and Diversity, and Interdisciplinary Research.

Lifespan: The health of girls and women is affected by developmental, physiological, and psychological age.  Women’s lives are marked by a continuum from intrauterine life to the elderly years: infancy, childhood and adolescence, menarche, reproductive life, the menopausal transition, postmenopausal years, the elderly, and frail elderly.  Many women’s lives and health status are influenced by factors such as work inside and outside the home, care-giving such as childcare and elder care responsibilities, reproductive status, marital status, and chronic illness.  Each of these may influence health, disease, lifestyle and treatment choices, and response to therapy.  Researchers should consider these variables in designing studies related to women’s health.

Sex/Gender Determinants: Women are characterized by both sex and gender as highlighted in the Agenda for Research in Women’s Health for the 21st Century and the Institute of Medicine report, entitled Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?  In this context, the term sex refers to being male or female according to reproductive organs and functions assigned by chromosomal complement.  Sex factors that contribute to the biological differences include chromosomes, reproduction, and hormones.  Gender refers to socially defined and derived expectations and roles rooted in biology and shaped by environment and experience.  Gender and sex are important considerations in most areas of research, including basic biological, psychological, social, and behavioral studies.  Consideration of these variables is critical to the accurate interpretation and validation of research affecting women’s health.  These variables determine how health or disease processes may differ among women or between men and women.

Health Disparities/Differences and Diversity: Women are disproportionately affected by some conditions and diseases in terms of incidence, diagnosis, course, and response to treatment.  Some populations of women may be at higher risk for adverse disease outcomes because of factors such as: biology, genes, culture, education, effects of poverty, access to care, quality of care, and access to opportunities for inclusion as research subjects in clinical trials and studies.  Thus, clinical research should include, but not be limited to, population-specific characteristics such as cultural diversity, race/ethnicity, immigrant status, rural or inner city residency status, effects of poverty or low socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and physical or mental disabilities.

Interdisciplinary Research: With increasing understanding of the inter-relatedness and complexity of disease, the nature of scientific investigation is shifting to an interdisciplinary collaborative approach.  Advances in women’s health can be better achieved by promoting partnerships across disciplines.  Interdisciplinary approaches can integrate knowledge from multiple specialties and disciplines, thus enhancing the likelihood of defining underlying pathologic processes.  Collaborations among researchers in academia, private industry, and federal settings can provide access to the latest scientific tools and technologies and expertise for women’s health research.


Basic, clinical and translational research should be considered in addressing priority areas in women’s health research. Some examples may include, but are not limited to:


The NIH is especially interested in fostering research in women’s health in the high priority areas of prevention and treatment, and the biological and behavioral basis of sex and gender differences.

Prevention and Treatment

Increased investigation into methods to prevent conditions and diseases, or to better treat them, can result in significant improvements in the quality and length of women’s lives.  Prevention research spans the continuum from the most basic biological studies to understanding the basis and effects of risk behaviors across the lifespan and the interventions to change them, including a focus on wellness and healthy behaviors.  Examples of needed prevention and treatment research studies in women’s health include, but are not limited to:

Biological and Behavioral Basis of Sex and Gender Differences

FY 2007 ad hoc Research Subcommittee of the NIH Coordinating Committee on Research on Women’s Health


Elaine Collier, M.D., FACP                           

Subcommittee Members                                          

Mary Blehar, Ph.D.                                                      Maria Teresa Canto, D.D.S., MPH
NIMH                                                                          NIDCR

Carolyn Deal, Ph.D.                                                     Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, M.D.
NIAID                                                                         NHLBI

Eleanor F. Hoff, Ph.D.                                     Karen A Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., MPH
NIDDK                                                                       NCI    

Sooja Kim, Ph.D.                                                         Anna Levy, M.S. 
CSR                                                                             NCI

Patty Mabry, Ph.D.                                                      Pamela Marino, Ph.D.
OBSSR                                                                        NIGMS

Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D.                                      Catherine Roca, M.D.
ODS                                                                            NIMH 

Cora Lee Wetherington, Ph.D. 

ORWH Liaisons

Lisa Begg, Dr.P.H., R.N.                                              Madeline Turkeltaub, R.N., Ph.D.
ORWH                                                                        NIAMS