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WHI receives Association for Clinical and Translational Science award

Jean Wactawski-Wende holds a framed issue of the UB Reporter announcing that UB had been selected a vanguard center for the Women's Health Initiative. Photo: Douglas Levere

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published May 14, 2015

“UB researchers contributed to the creation of a deep data bank that has had a profound impact on health care practice for women in the U.S. and around the world.”
Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean
School of Public Health and Health Professions

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), one of the largest clinical trials ever undertaken in the U.S., has been recognized for bringing far-reaching new insights into health care practice for women by the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS).

WHI is the recipient of ACTS’2015 Team Science Award, which acknowledges and recognizes the growing importance of interdisciplinary teams to the translation of research discoveries into clinical applications and eventually widespread clinical practice.

Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions and chair of the WHI steering committee, accepted the award on behalf of WHI at the ACTS’ annual meeting, held last month in Washington, D.C.

UB, a national and global leader in epidemiology and women’s health research, has played a key role in WHI for more than two decades, serving as one of 40 centers across the country responsible for implementing the landmark, National Institutes of Health-funded study.

Originally involving more than 162,000 women across the nation — including nearly 4,000 from Western New York — WHI researchers sought to gather essential clinical data on the major diseases affecting women, on whom remarkably few studies had ever been done.

The primary goal of the WHI was to reduce coronary heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and fractures linked to osteoporosis among postmenopausal women through prevention strategies and identification of risk factors.

Perhaps the most important piece of WHI research at UB was the development of a comprehensive biospecimen bank containing hundreds of thousands of biological samples provided by the Western New York women who participated in the initiative.

“The WHI focused on many of the inequities in women’s health research,” says Wactawski-Wende, who is also principal investigator of UB’s WHI center. “UB researchers contributed to the creation of a deep data bank that has had a profound impact on health care practice for women in the U.S. and around the world.

“We could not do any of this work without the study participants,” she notes. “We are fortunate to have these partnerships with those in our community that help realize these important discoveries.

“The WHI will continue to provide practical information to women and their physicians about hormone therapy, dietary patterns, calcium/vitamin D supplementation and their effects on the prevention of heart disease, cancer and osteoporotic fracture.”

Data collected by UB’s WHI researchers also have been used by UB faculty studying everything from connections between periodontal disease and cancer, and genome-wide associations with disease to metabolic syndrome and what role vitamin D plays in chronic disease.

Wactawski-Wende explains that since the WHI is a multicenter study it has allowed UB to collaborate with many research powerhouses around the country and some of the best investigators in the field.

“In addition to the initial WHI contract and extension studies of more than $21 million, UB has attracted another $12 million in funding to the WHI center,” she says. “Moreover, the opening of UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center a little less than three years ago continued the development of the university’s critical infrastructure, strengthening our researchers’ ability to make discoveries in the laboratory that will have an impact on human health.”

In addition to WHI, UB is home to a range of high-profile national research programs, including the world’s longest running COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) trial, cutting-edge cardiovascular research and development of innovative devices for treating vascular disease, adds Michael E. Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“With five health sciences schools, rare among academic health centers, UB is in a very strong position to best leverage research collaborations both inside the university and with external partners,” Cain says.