Senators Urge Continued Funding for Pioneering Womens Health Study

Research evaluates chronic disease prevention and early detection

A group of leading female Senators is pressing the National Institutes of Health to continue funding the groundbreaking Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), the largest study of middle-aged and older women in the nation.

“The well-established WHI infrastructure provides a cost-effective, highly credible resource for continuing substantial research on women’s health, aging, chronic disease prevention, and early detection,” the 11 U.S. senators said in a letter to Dr. Francis Collins, overall director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, home institute to the WHI.

“More WHI discoveries are on the horizon for women across the country,” the senators said. “We look forward to the continuation of this worthwhile program, and the national health and economic benefits it brings.”

The signees were Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chair of the Senator Appropriations Committee; Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sen. Mazie Hirono of (D-Hawaii), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) is a long-term national health study that has focused on strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women. These chronic diseases are the major causes of death, disability, and frailty in older women of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

WHI recruited more than 160,000 post-menopausal women at 40 U.S. research institutions in the mid-1990s to expand medical understanding and improve health care for women through the study of hormone therapy, diet and nutritional supplement use. WHI discoveries have contributed to better post-menopausal health outcomes, including the first national reduction in breast cancer diagnosis and associated medical costs.

Four of the principal researchers who have been involved in WHI from the beginning urge continued funding of the cost-effective clinical research program that addresses significant holes in our knowledge about the health and well-being of women 50 years of age and older, especially with new discoveries on the horizon.

“WHI has changed clinical practice, improved health and reduced health care costs,” said Dr. Garnet Anderson, senior vice president and director of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, home of the WHI Clinical Coordinating Center. “As a WHI investigator, I am overwhelmed by the commitment of our participants, the dedication of colleagues, and the support that leaders and advocates have given us. Our primary objective at this stage should be to sustain this investment and continue to learn as much as we can from these women.”

“The WHI clinical trials have led to a sea change in clinical practice and improved health care for women around the globe,” added Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

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