August 5, 2020

Women’s Global Health Institute continues to seek data, encourage research on sex differences in COVID-19

Ulrike Dydak and Dorothy Teegarden Ulrike Dydak (left), associate director, and Dorothy Teegarden, director, are leaders of the Women’s Global Health Institute, a partner of the Purdue Institute of Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Disease in Discovery Park. (Photo by Vincent Walter) Download image

More women are testing positive for COVID-19 around the world, but more men are dying from the disease, and researchers affiliated with Purdue’s Women’s Global Health Institute are trying to find out why.

WGHI-affiliated researchers are interested also in knowing how the stresses of adjustment are affecting the health and well-being of women who are caring for families and who are working in industrial and educational settings, as well as how to include women effectively in interventions to improve their health in these difficult circumstances.

These are all questions that are well-suited to WGHI’s mission, says Dorothy Teegarden, WGHI director.

“At WGHI, we develop and implement innovations that help prevent disease and improve the quality of life of women around the world. In addition to the underlying biology in sex differences between men and women, which affect risk for the virus, other factors also influence well-being, such as socioeconomic status and family structure. Therefore, it’s important to examine  these factors within the context of women’s health,” says Teegarden, who is also a professor in the Department of Nutrition Science.

Ulrike Dydak, WGHI associate director, says, “With respect to COVID-19, understanding how the disease affects men and women differently can be useful in determining how to take into account these differences when designing interventions.” Dydak is a professor in the School of Health Sciences and director of the Purdue Life Sciences MRI Facility.

By the time the first case of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States was announced in February, media were already reporting on potential differences in the severity of disease progression among men and women in other countries hit first. WGHI leaders mobilized to create a repository of relevant information.

“We recognized that our institute was uniquely equipped to answer questions of sex difference because of our focus on interdisciplinary research, and Purdue’s strengths in such areas as engineering, biology, and the physical and social sciences, all of which are represented among WGHI members,” says Luanne Bermel, WGHI’s managing director. “In fact, we anticipated that some of our researchers were already exploring sex differences in their research, or that there were active studies that could incorporate these questions.”

In April, the institute asked Purdue researchers to report any COVID-19 research they were already undertaking, along with any plans they had to include sex differences. WGHI compiled a list of respondents. “Having this information on our website makes it easier for Purdue researchers to identify potential collaborators,” Bermel says.

WGHI also has developed a webpage to highlight published scientific papers and media coverage from around the world, along with links to data from Global Health 5050, which is tracking confirmed cases and deaths by sex and age.

Institute leaders also have shared the information they’ve collected with their External Advisory Council, which helped them devise a list of potential research topics for members to pursue, including protection against infection, immune responses, and the effects of stress and mental health problems during the pandemic and recovery.

Bermel encourages anyone who is engaged in COVID-19 research or thinks they may pursue it in the near future to report it. Investigators who previously reported research but have updates to share should contact her at lmi@purdue.edu.

About WGHI
The Women’s Global Health Institute, a partner of the Purdue Institute of Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Disease, serves as a nexus of interdisciplinary research to create partnerships, promote research and develop training opportunities to improve the health and quality of life for women through the prevention and early detection of disease. 

Writer: Angela Roberts, akroberts@purdue.edu
Sources: Dorothy Teegarden, teegarden@purdue.edu
Ulrike Dydak, udydak@purdue.edu
Luanne Bermel, lmi@purdue.edu


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