Purdue institute to focus on women's health, disease prevention

March 23, 2012

Connie Weaver, who is known for her work in mineral bioavailability, calcium metabolism and bone health, works with scientists in physics at Purdue's Rare Isotope Measurement Laboratory - or PRMIE Lab - to study nutrient absorption and reduction in bone loss by using accelerator mass spectrometry. Weaver, head and distinguished professor of nutrition science and a member of the Institute of Medicine, will lead Purdue's new Women's Global Health Institute, which is dedicated to research and education focused on improving women's health issues through prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, bone health and Alzheimer's disease. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue will be home to a new research institute dedicated to research and education focused on improving women's health issues through prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, bone health and Alzheimer's disease, university officials announced Friday (March 23).

"Most women's health centers focus on advocacy and treatment, but our Women's Global Health Institute is building on the university's strengths in nutrition, disease prevention and biomedical technologies to be proactive in addressing a variety of health problems," said Christine Ladisch, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, which co-sponsors the institute with Discovery Park. "This novel approach also creates an environment where students can engage in learning and training opportunities that will better prepare them for careers related to women's health."

Bone health, neurodegenerative diseases, women's cancers and wellness are key areas the institute will target through research collaborations, funding and supporting pilot projects, as well as training graduate students and researchers. Connie Weaver, head and distinguished professor of nutrition science and a member of the Institute of Medicine, will lead the new institute.

"Our motto is that every woman has the right to health, and we want to help women all over the world, including those in developing countries where medical facilities or infrastructure is lacking, address health problems," said Weaver, who is known for her work in mineral bioavailability, calcium metabolism and bone health. "The global emphasis helps us understand the big picture of disease and wellness throughout the world as well as closer to home. Indiana has among the highest incidence of chronic diseases in women and more than 28 percent of Indiana women are identified as obese, which means they are at a higher risk for chronic disease such as cancer."

Examples of collaborations that will be affiliated with the institute are:

* The study of energy metabolism and cancer risk. Dorothy Teegarden, professor of nutrition science, and D. Marshall Porterfield, professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

* The study of how the chemistry of polyphenols, found in some fruits, affect cognitive function for patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Jean-Christophe (Chris) Rochet, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology; Mario Ferruzzi, associate professor of food science and nutrition science; and Elsa Janle, associate research professor of nutrition science.

* The International Breast Cancer and Nutrition project, a 20-year study that looks at the role nutrients and other environmental factors play in breast tissue alterations and cancer development. Led by Weaver and Sophie Lelièvre, an associate professor of basic medical sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

"We can make a difference by combining Purdue's strengths in studying disease prevention and technologies in chemistry, physics and engineering to understand why a healthy cell becomes a diseased cell," said Weaver, who collaborates with scientists in physics to study nutrient absorption and reduction in bone loss. "Once cell tissue, whether it's in neurons or bone composition, is affected it can be difficult or impossible to repair."

The institute also sets itself apart with its focus on women and neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

"There are many similarities among these diseases on a sub-cellular level. Women appear to be at an increased risk, but the reason is not clear," Weaver said. "It could be that the higher risk is because of longer life spans, and it may be related to the loss of hormones at menopause."

The institute also received a $500,000 deferred gift from Susan Bulkeley Butler, an alumna and former university trustee, who has supported a variety of programs at Purdue including the Butler Center for Leadership Excellence in Purdue's Discovery Park and the Susan Bulkeley Butler Women's Archives at Purdue Libraries. At the Krannert School of Management, she also endowed a faculty chair and a scholarship for women student leaders. Butler also is giving $50,000 as a challenge match for a new pilot grant program that would make funds available to support research for the next four years at the Women's Global Health Institute.

The Women's Global Health Institute will be supported by the College of Health and Human Sciences, National Institutes of Health funded Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Purdue's Discovery Park, specifically the Bindley Bioscience Center and the Birck Center for Nanotechnology. The announcement was made as part of the College of Health and Human Sciences' Life Inspired week.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources:   Christine Ladisch, 765-494-8210, ladischc@purdue.edu

                    Connie Weaver, 765-494-8237, weavercm@purdue.edu