Professor Kim Templeton part of international group that identified 50 global opportunities to advance women’s health
Sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the Women’s Health Innovation Opportunity Map outlines 50 opportunities across the research and development continuum that are critical for improving the health of women in all socio-economic groups around the world.
Despite years of policy changes and initiatives around the world designed to improve women’s health, the female body remains understudied and research into the health of half the Earth’s population is chronically underfunded.
Kimberly Templeton, M.D., professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, is one of more than 250 researchers and experts from 50 countries who spent months devising an international framework to change that.
The Women’s Health Innovation Opportunity Map, which was released Oct. 8 in Senegal at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, identifies and outlines 50 opportunities for research and development that are critical to improving the health of women. Sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the Opportunity Map provides not only a roadmap for new research and funding opportunities related to women’s health, but also for training and education and support for women going into health-related careers.
“Part of our emphasis was getting away from the standard ‘bikini medicine’ view of women's health, that it's only breast health and reproductive health,” said Templeton, who has been on the steering committee for the Opportunity Map since the inception of the project. “We need a more expansive approach to understand that for every condition that can occur in both men and women, there are sex- and gender- based differences, whether that's in risk factors, prevention, presentation, prevalence or response to treatment.”
For decades, women’s health care was based on research conducted exclusively on men. Female bodies were perceived as smaller versions of male bodies with different reproductive organs thought to make women difficult to study, so medical science operated on the assumption that what was good for the gander also would be good for the goose.
Today, the medical community knows differently. It’s been more than 30 years since the National Institutes of Health created the Office of Research on Women’s Health. But change can be hard to implement, and research into female health issues is often sidelined and women are still underrepresented in clinical trials.
“There are real-life implications resulting from this,” noted Templeton, who, in addition to working as an orthopedic surgeon, studies sex and gender in all health conditions as well as the issues facing women physicians. “Until we do a better job looking for sex- and gender-based differences, we won't understand the impact of these factors on certain conditions and treatments. If studies don't include assessment of differences based on sex or gender and report these differences, it’s really hard to determine whether the data from a study apply to the patient sitting in front of you.”
Failure to delve into these differences is why, for example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cut in half the recommended dosage for insomnia medications for women 20 years after these drugs were already on the market. New research found that the original dosage of these drugs put women at greater risk for drowsiness and driving while impaired.
The 50 opportunities outlined in the Opportunity Map are organized within nine broad topics that include not only clinical areas such as communicable diseases, chronic conditions and female-specific conditions, but also social and structural determinants of health, regulatory and science policy and research design. Opportunities were identified based on their potential for impact, readiness to scale, innovation feasibility, focus on women’s unmet health needs and ability to improve health equity. The map also spells out specific solution strategies to realize each opportunity within the next 15 years.
“It’s a massive problem and undertaking, and it was a significant amount of work to develop recommendations that could change how people see health from a sex and gender perspective, as well as to find ways to encourage more women to pursue and thrive in STEMM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine] careers,” said Templeton. “But this is how we can improve patient care and the lives of women in particular.”