Women, Science & Medicine

By Emma Pettengale, Commissioning Editor, Portland Press

women-and-medicine_blog picture for international womens day








It’s commonly known that women generally have longer life expectancies than men, however this is not the only medical difference between the sexes. For example, cardiovascular disease develops 7 to 10 years later in women than in men and is still the major cause of death in women over the age of 65 years.

The risk of heart disease in women is often underestimated and because it often presents differently than in men, women are often unaware that what they’re experiencing is a heart attack.

This International Women’s Day, we highlight a recent and ongoing collection of articles exploring the molecular mechanisms behind the differences in the health and disease of men and women.

Gender-medicine is the study of diseases or conditions which occur only in one sex, such as pregnancy-related conditions or which are more common in one sex than the other. This field explores how two sexes may have different experiences of the same disease, potentially presenting with different symptoms or responding differently to therapy. Gender is a composite defined not only by biological sex chromosomes but also by experience, a crucial component given epigenomic regulation of gene expression.

Along with Guest Editor Professor Jane Reckelhoff (Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor, Director, Women’s Health Research Center, University of Mississippi), this special issue from Clinical Science explores the impact of gender on health and disease.

In her introductory review, Marianne Legato, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia University, says “Like all science, this discipline began and continues to develop as a reflection of the society in which we exist. Each new discovery reshapes our interpretation of what we have and are observing in our scientific inquiry about the differences between male and female. Pari passu, we ask new questions at every turn, refining our ideas about how biological sex affects the phenotype and how the impact of the environment integrates into who we ultimately are and become. [1]”

Hypertension is a major contributor to worldwide morbidity and mortality rates related to cardiovascular disease. There are important sex differences in the onset and rate of hypertension in humans. Compared to men, premenopausal women are less likely to develop hypertension; however, after 60 the incidence of hypertension increases in women and even surpasses that seen in older men. In her review, Meredith Hay explores whether brain oestrogen receptors are responsible [2], while John Dasinger and Barbara Alexander explore early influences and whether sex has an effect on programmed cardiovascular risk [3].

For many years the significance of heart disease in women was vastly underappreciated, and women were significantly underrepresented in cardiovascular clinical research. This collection of papers includes several research articles directly focused on the impact of gender and pregnancy on cardiovascular health.

But it’s not just the heart – in 2012 WHO reported that across the world 287,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year, with another 7–10 million women experiencing ongoing or severe complications [4]. Preeclampsia is a disorder that affects at least 5–10% of all pregnancies and is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine [5]. The review from Babbette LaMarca explores the role of inflammation in the pathology of preeclampsia [6].

Be sure to check out the full collection for more on the impact gender can have on your health – http://www.portlandpresspublishing.com/cc/gender-and-molecular-medicine.


  1. Marianne J. Legato (2015) Gender-specific medicine in the genomic era Clinical Science 130 (1) 1-7
  2. Meredith Hay (2015) Sex, the brain and hypertension: brain oestrogen receptors and high blood pressure risk factors Clinical Science 130 (1) 9-18
  3. John Henry Dasinger, Barbara T. Alexander (2016) Gender differences in developmental programming of cardiovascular diseases Clinical Science 130 (5) 337-348
  4. Maternity World Wide http://www.maternityworldwide.org/the-issues/
  5. Preeclampsia Foundation http://www.preeclampsia.org/
  6. Ashlyn C. Harmon, Denise C. Cornelius, Lorena M. Amaral, Jessica L. Faulkner, Mark W. Cunningham Jr, Kedra Wallace & Babbette LaMarca (2016) The role of inflammation in the pathology of preeclampsia Clinical Science 130 (6) 409-419


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