JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH has been recognized as a Hero in Women’s Health, a Champion of Women’s Health, and one of Boston’s Top Docs for Women. She has been a lead investigator in landmark studies including the Women’s Health Initiative, the Nurses’ Health study, and the Women’s Health Study, all of which have unearthed practices that help women lead long and healthy lives.
Manson currently serves as the interim executive director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), as well as chief of the BWH Division of Preventive Health and the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School. Here, Manson shares her insights and vision for the future of women’s health.
What inspired you to study and dedicate your career to improving women’s health?
My original inspiration and motivation was my mother’s death from ovarian cancer, 36 years ago. There was very little information available and there was no effective treatment for her type of cancer. It motivated me to become involved in women’s health and to play a role in trying to address the historical lack of research on women’s health.
Why do you think it’s important to bring awareness to gender inequities in biomedical research?
Research in sex-specific medicine and sex differences in medicine will improve patient care for both men and women. Precision medicine starts with attention to sex differences in medicine, which are important determinants of effective prevention and treatment of disease. It’s ironic that with so much of a focus on precision medicine that there has been so little attention given to sex differences in medicine.
How do you suggest we approach bringing awareness to differences in men and women’s health needs?
The Connors Center and the Fish Center for Women’s Health at BWH play a very important role in increasing the visibility of sex specific medicine. The mission and the vision of the Connors Center to transform care through sex-specific education, research, and clinical care will have a major impact on advancing the field of women’s health and gender-specific medicine. This work needs even wider dissemination.
What are some of the clinical areas that you think are important to address in the current climate of women’s health?
We need to address sex differences in medicine, particularly in how men and women respond differently to medications, how one’s metabolism affects the way drugs are processed in the body, and how dosage needs may differ for men and women. The fact that some medications should be tailored according to sex and body size is often neglected. And we need to do more work in understanding sex-based differences in diagnostic tests, prevention, and treatment of cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure, as well as diabetes, depression, cognitive decline, osteoporosis, cancer, and virtually every other health condition.
What are some of your priorities for the coming year as interim executive director?
I have several priorities for the coming year. First and foremost, I will continue to support the faculty and staff of the Connors Center while working to bring greater awareness to the importance of understanding sex-specific differences in healthcare. I want to advocate for and promote the Connors Center fellowship programs, including global women’s health, family planning, mental health, lung health, and all the others. And I would like to be actively involved in educating our clinicians about the importance of sex differences in medicine, and working to integrate gender-specific medicine into training programs for healthcare providers.