In fact, that’s exactly how science has approached women’s health for centuries: by studying diseases and remedies in men, then broadly applying that information to the population as a whole. Science considered women too complex to study because of hormone fluctuations in the menstrual cycle, and they were reluctant to expose women to risky experiments during childbearing years.
Unfortunately, this historic practice — as well as the mistaken belief that women respond the same way to treatments as men — has led to significant gaps in science’s understanding of women’s health.
Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) is dedicated to changing that status quo by embracing the not-quite-so-radical idea that women’s health is everyone’s health: when women thrive, so do entire communities.
Founded in 1992, the institute was well ahead of its time. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Institute of Medicine, now the National Academy of Sciences, asked the key question: Does Sex Matter? The answer, of course, is yes. From basic cell biology to the way we think, behave, respond to outside forces such as chemicals and infectious disease, men and women are fundamentally different — and science needs to recognize that fact.
Today, MWRI is the largest research institute in the United States devoted solely to the health of women and infants. The institute receives more National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding than anywhere else in the U.S. for reproductive health research, and projects are varied and vital, including:
• HIV prevention for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations
• Noninvasive prenatal testing
• Clinical trials that allowed a pregnant breast cancer patient safely deliver a healthy baby
• Techniques to preserve the fertility of childhood cancer survivors
• Development of a nasal spray to prevent COVID-19 without a vaccine
Its location directly across the street from UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital makes MWRI ideally situated for bringing the latest research discoveries directly to patients, a practice known as “bench to bedside.” Perhaps the best example of this is Carolyn Kubik, who was able to survive Stage IV ovarian cancer thanks to a clinical trial that studied treatments with the help of courageous women like Darcel Fahy.
In addition to federal support, the generosity of donors is essential to MWRI’s ability to continue pushing boundaries in scientific research. Through its affiliated foundation, the institute benefits from the contributions of philanthropic organizations, corporations, and private individuals. It also hosts several events throughout the year to raise money for its research, including a partnership with Women Who Rock, an annual concert that is founded, produced and fronted by women.
After a pandemic-induced hiatus in 2020, during which it produced the virtual Moms Rock Challenge to benefit MWRI, Women Who Rock returns in 2021 with a live concert on Oct. 16 at Stage AE.
In the meantime, MWRI is gearing up for its second biannual Magee-Womens Summit, an international conference that will convene the world’s top innovators in women’s health on Nov. 17 and 18 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The Summit’s centerpiece will be the awarding of the $1 million Magee Prize to fund collaborative, transformative research in women’s and reproductive sciences.
Visit mageewomens.org for more information on events and other ways to support MWRI’s mission.