PHILADELPHIA — Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (www.med.upenn.edu) have been awarded a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a new translational interdisciplinary research center to explore the role of sex and gender in behavioral health.
The new Center for the Study of Sex and Gender in Behavioral Health will be led by C. Neill Epperson, MD, associate professor of Psychiatry and founder and director of the Penn Center for Women's Behavioral Wellness, as principal investigator, along with Tracy L. Bale, PhD, Center co-director and associate professor of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine and director, Neuroscience Center at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine.
“It is well established that sex and gender are critical determinants of mental health and mental illness. But what isn’t clear is how hormonal developmental milestones such as puberty and early life traumatic events interact to impact neuropsychiatric health in women across the lifespan,” said Dr. Epperson. “Using behavioral and molecular models of stress and reproductive neuroendocrinology, psychophysiology, and neuroimaging, the new Center for the Study of Sex and Gender in Behavioral Health will investigate the unique mechanisms at play in women’s behavioral health.”
Studies have found that gender differences occur particularly in the rates of common mental disorders - depression, anxiety and somatic complaints. These disorders, in which women predominate, affect approximately 1 in 3 people in the community and constitute a serious public health problem.
“This new Center provides a powerful mechanism by which we can translate results from an animal model examining early life stress directly to human studies, bench to bedside and back again,” said Dr. Bale. “Our frequent interactions as a research team mean that we can discuss our results as they are obtained, immediately implementing important new directions and outcomes.”
The new Center’s research projects will focus on how the experience of early childhood adversity in women’s lives reprograms the brain toward stress dysregulation, and how this intersects with periods of dynamic hormonal flux across the life span, including pregnancy and aging. While the Center’s present studies will focus primarily in the translational neuroscience of the sex bias for affective disturbances in females, Drs. Epperson and Bale will promote the inclusion of sex and gender as factors in research across all Schools, Centers and Institutes at the University of Pennsylvania.