SWHR: Transforming Science

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SWHR’s Mission


SWHR is the brain-child of Florence Haseltine, MD, PhD, who also coined the term “sex-based biology,” referring to the study of sex differences in health and disease. When Dr. Haseltine began working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), she was told that her “role was to champion the field of obstetrics and gynecology,” which at the time were under-represented in research. In 1985, NIH lacked sufficient in-house expertise and funding for academic scientists. When her friend, Rosa DeLauro, developed ovarian cancer, Dr. Haseltine seized the opportunity to promote the need for more research into conditions affecting women.

In the spring of 1989, Dr. Haseltine gathered friends and colleagues from medical and scientific organizations across the country to address this critical issue. They congregated at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and agreed on the need not only for more gynecological research at NIH but also for research regarding women’s health in general. This meeting gave rise to SWHR.

SWHR ensured that its dedicated leadership included a diverse group of health care providers and others concerned with research and health care equity, to provide a range of perspectives. Included in the initial gathering at ACOG and later on the first SWHR Board, were physicians and researchers specializing in cardiology, mental health, and obstetrics-gynecology, as well as nurses, lawyers, and public policy advocates involved and interested in women’s health. In 1993, SWHR opened its official headquarters in Washington, D.C. and hired its first professional staff. Phyllis Greenberger, MSW, was selected as the first Executive Director and remains as President & CEO today.

In 1990, due to biases in biomedical research, the health of American women was at risk. SWHR’s all-volunteer first Board of Directors made it their priority to confront this injustice. They worked with the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, its Executive Director- Leslie Primer, and Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) to persuade the Government Accounting Office (GAO; now the Government Accountability Office) to address the issue. They recommended that GAO evaluate NIH’s policies and practices regarding the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical trials.

The audit was successfully released at an NIH reauthorization hearing in June 1990. It concluded that the NIH policy of 1986, which encouraged the inclusion of women in clinical trials, had been poorly communicated and misunderstood within NIH and the research community at large. Additionally, it was applied inconsistently across Institutes and was only applied to extramural research (research conducted outside NIH). The GAO report concluded that there was “…no readily accessible source of data on the demographics of NIH study populations.” This made it impossible to determine if NIH were enforcing its own recommendations.




Looking Forward

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