P&S Journal: Spring 1997, Vol.17, No.2
P&S, P&G Collaborate on Gender-Specific Medicine
P&S and Procter & Gamble have joined forces to advance gender-specific medicine, a new approach to health care based on insights into biological differences between women and men. Such differences can have a significant impact on the diagnosis and treatment of disease in both sexes.
The Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia, as the collaboration is called, will advance the study and use of gender-specific approaches to health care. Gender-specific medicine represents a significant departure from the common practice of treating women by applying information derived from studies on men, says Dr. Marianne J. Legato, associate professor of clinical medicine and director of the partnership. "Historically, medical research has been conducted primarily in males, leaving us with an insufficient, largely male model of biology and disease that's been applied to treat women without modification."
The Partnership for Women's Health will help correct this imbalance. "By combining the assets of a world-renowned medical school with a leading developer of health care products worldwide, we will close the gender gap in medicine," says Dr. Herbert Pardes, vice president and dean.
The partnership's associate directors are Dr. John Bilezikian, professor of medicine and pharmacology, and Dr. Michael R. Rosen, the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Professor of Pharmacology and professor of pediatrics.
As a first step, all known information about gender-based biological differences will be gathered into a central database called Genspec. That effort will identify gaps in knowledge and enable the partnership to chart directions for future research. These efforts will provide a foundation for educating both medical and lay communities about the significant differences between men and women. "For the partnership to meet its goal of improving health care, the information we disseminate must reach physicians and the public alike. We must arm patients with better information to empower them to receive better health care," says Dr. Legato.
The first research projects through the partnership, funded by an unrestricted grant from Procter & Gamble, will look at gender-specific differences in heart function and bone metabolism. Other research will look at why certain diseases are more prevalent in women and why some drugs are less effective and sometimes fatal for women.
"In studying the effects of drugs on the heart, I've encountered medications that appear to cause excessive problems in women," explains Dr. Rosen. "By understanding why this occurs, we can attempt to develop drugs that better meet the physiological needs of female biology."
The gender-specific approach to health care does not exclude men. On the contrary, information about the mechanisms by which men resist diseases that devastate women may be fundamentally useful to both genders.
"We need to understand the basis for osteoporosis in men, which may provide additional clues to the different susceptibilities and mechanisms of bone loss between the genders," says Dr. Bilezikian.
The partnership will make information on gender-specific biology available to health care professionals and the public through professional symposia, position papers, medical and consumer books, and a World Wide Web site (http://www.pg.com/womenshealth).
"The partnership's goal of building and sharing gender-specific knowledge is critical to optimizing women's health care in the years to come," says Dr. Legato.