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Women’s Heart Health Diagnostics in the Works

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Heart health

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

Updated 17 Aug. 2020. An organization for redressing health disparities faced by women awarded a new grant to advance better tools for predicting risk of women’s heart disease. Michelle O’Donoghue, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and associate professor at Harvard Medical School is receiving the $50,000 award from Women’s Health Access Matters, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Women’s Health Access Matters or WHAM!, aims to raise awareness of health care practices, outcomes, and consequences that often leave women behind. The group also funds research on clinical practices and technologies that can redress these imbalances and improve outcomes for women, particularly in autoimmune diseases, brain health, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

The new award is the second part of a three-year, $150,000 WHAM! grant to O’Donoghue to better identify, detect, and measure risk factors for heart disease in women. As O’Donoghue explains in an article last year for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, differences in biology between the genders can mean differences in the way heart disease is expressed in men and women, yet the same tests, procedures, and medications are used, often designed initially for men. The article spells out seven major differences in physiology and symptoms, as well as diagnostic and treatment requirements in women’s and men’s heart health, including risk factors for heart disease.

The new award continues O’Donoghue’s work to identify and characterize risk factors associated with heart disease in women. Under the first WHAM! grant, the researchers analyzed and identified protein indicators of heart disease in 260 patients, divided evenly between those with and without heart disease. In the next phase, the team plans to refine the protein analysis with data on metabolites to give a more detailed framework for designing women’s heart health diagnostics.

In an email to Science & Enterprise, O’Donoghue says the project, “is identifying novel proteins and metabolites that are associated with the risk of heart disease in post-menopausal women applying new technology that wasn’t previously available. These novel markers will then be combined with other previously established risk factors to help devise a new risk algorithm that is more specifically tailored toward women.”

She adds, “In part 2 of the project, we will now be taking an unbiased approach toward identifying novel metabolites that may provide incremental information for risk stratification. By taking this complementary approach, we believe that we can deliver a more thorough assessment of patient risk.”

WHAM! is also investigating economic consequences of health disparities between men and women. The group says it plans to release a study undertaken with the Rand Corporation of economic impacts from differences in research on women’s and men’s health.

“Men and women experience signs and symptoms of heart attacks very differently, but traditional research has focused almost exclusively on men,” notes Carolee Lee, founder and CEO of WHAM! in a statement. “Men and women experience signs and symptoms of heart attacks very differently, but traditional research has focused almost exclusively on men. The result is that women with heart disease are frequently misdiagnosed and undertreated. If we can better understand women’s risk factors for heart disease, we can improve women’s health outcomes, which will have powerful effects for our economy.”

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