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UI to build new women’s health center

BY JOSEPH BELK | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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The University of Iowa is becoming an excellent place to study women’s health, some say.

And the National Institutes of Health recently agreed, awarding the UI a $2.2 million grant to establish the Women’s Reproductive Health Research Career Development Center. Today, UI Hospital and Clinics officials will present information about the new center to the state Board of Regents during its meeting on the UI campus.

The center will channel grant dollars to pay a portion of the salaries of up to three faculty scholars for up to five years, allowing them to divert 75 percent of their efforts to women’s health research.

“I think this will provide us with a new venue to attract people to the institution who will have a better opportunity to pursue research in women’s health,” said Mario Ascoli, the UI’s research director for the center. “It will also help us to develop people who are here but want to develop more of a research orientation than they have.”

Specifically, research funded by the center will include hormonal signaling, cancer, genetics, and genomics, or the study of genomes.

But women’s health issues aren’t limited to women’s bodies; women make 84 percent of health care decisions for the entire family, according to a UI Health Care report.

The new UI program isn’t exclusive to obstetricians and gynecologists. More than 20 faculty members from the Carver College of Medicine and College of Public Health are listed as mentors for the program — some of whom don’t work in obstetrics/gynecology. Ascoli noted some of the faculty involved with the center are cardiovascular researchers.

“Some of them may not be so obviously related to women’s health,” he said.

At the regents’ meeting, Kimberly Leslie, the head of the UI obstetrics/ gynecology department and principal investigator at the center, said she will discuss her ideas for expanding women’s health programs at the UI.

“All around us, women’s health and women’s hospitals are springing up, and for many reasons, we think Iowa could benefit from a robust women’s health program,” Leslie said, noting other schools — the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Michigan, for example — have or will soon construct women’s hospitals.

Nationwide, the UI and 19 other institutions received similar grants from the NIH to establish or sustain women’s reproductive health research career development programs.

“That’s a pretty competitive program,” Ascoli said, noting many of those who applied already had established programs.

Though Ascoli said he is unsure how the UI women’s health programs compare with other programs nationally, the recent grant is an indicator of success.

“This is the first time the University of Iowa has had this kind of program funded, so that bodes well,” Ascoli said.

Recent rankings from U.S. News & World Report named the UI’s graduate programs in women’s health as the eighth-best program of its type among public universities.

Previous grant recipients said women’s reproductive health research career development programs have been beneficial at their schools.

“I definitely would not have been able to do publishing, advance my career, [and] have a rewarding academic career,” said Anne Steiner, an obstetrics/gynecology assistant professor at the University of North Carolina.

The University of North Carolina recently lost NIH funding for its program, which Steiner said highlights the competitiveness of the award.


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