AU is now an NIH Specialized Center of Research Excellence on Sex Differences

The Graduate School’s dean, Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, heads up a new NIH SCORE grant team. The SCORE (Specialized Center of Research Excellence) program is a signature program of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) at the NIH. There are 12 Centers across the US, each serving as a national resource for translational research, at multiple levels of analysis, to identify the role of biological sex differences on the health of women. Augusta is the newest member of the SCORE Consortium, joining 11 other esteemed medical centers, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cedars-Sinai, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Mayo Clinic, MUSC, UCLA, University of Colorado, and Yale. (See NIH SCORE grant website for the complete list.)

The designation as a SCORE member means AU will become a hub for training and educating the next generation of scientists on the importance of the consideration of sex as a biological variable (SABV) and the need to increase our understanding of female physiology and pathophysiology. Importantly, the grant includes funding for trainees and early career investigators to expand their work on these vital issues. The AU SCORE program is focused on hypertension; aptly named R.O.A.R., which stands for rural, obese, and at-risk. In her overview of the grant, Dr. Sullivan writes that about “19 million deaths were attributed to cardiovascular disease (CVD) globally in 2020, an increase of [about] 20% from 2010” and that “heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the US.” She points to hypertension as the primary modifiable risk factor for CVD and focuses on the need to increase awareness of the risks that women in particular face with uncontrolled hypertension.

The centerpiece, or heart, of the grant is a Career Enhancement Core (CEC) directed by Daria Ilatovskaya, PhD, an associate professor of Physiology in the Medical College of Georgia (MCG). The CEC includes:

· Educational outreach coordinated by Dr. Brittany Pinkerton in the College of Education and Human Development

· Research training including a Mentoring Academy and SABV research Workshop coordinated by Drs. Ben Ogola in the Vascular Biology Center in MCG, Elena Dent, Assistant Dean in the Graduate School, and Fiona Hollis at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine

· A community needs assessment coordinated by Dr. Marlo Vernon in the Georgia Prevention Institute

· Development of unique educational materials coordinated by Amanda Behr, Chair of Medical Illustration in the College of Allied Health Sciences

The CEC will provide a number of community engagement opportunities for graduate students across AU as the Augusta ROAR team works to reach its goal of transforming academic and community understanding of hypertension in women. Opportunities will include going into local public schools to discuss the importance of heart health and working through community partnerships to offer blood pressure screenings to empower women to monitor their blood pressure to help reduce cardiovascular mortality. Anyone interested in getting involved, please reach out to Dr. Sullivan.

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