The Women's Health Initiative (WHI), the nationwide study following health outcomes in postmenopausal women that has yielded major discoveries on diseases affecting them, has received significant support for its groundbreaking work.
A new contract from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health provides $8.1 million in funding to extend the study and produce scholarly scientific output. With this extension through 2027, the WHI will have been continuously funded for 35 years.
UB is one of 16 original “vanguard clinical centers” selected to participate in the initiative and now serves as the WHI Northeast Regional Center, managing data collection and scientific coordination among nine affiliated institutions in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions, is the WHI Northeast Regional Center’s principal investigator. Her co-investigators are Michael LaMonte, Amy Millen, Heather Ochs-Balcom and Hailey Banack, all faculty in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at UB.
According to Wactawski-Wende, WHI’s main goal at inception was to explain the origins and prevention of major causes of diseases and death in postmenopausal women who were aged 50 to 79 when they enrolled in the study.
WHI’s clinical trials were designed to determine whether menopausal hormone therapy, calcium plus vitamin D, and a low-fat diet could prevent chronic diseases in older women. The study initially focused on health outcomes like cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporotic fractures.
Over time WHI expanded to focus on many other health outcomes including dementia, stroke, diabetes, heart failure and frailty. Today, WHI aims to increase knowledge about factors such as sleep, physical activity and others that may be associated with a good quality of life and prevention of poor health outcomes. WHI is also looking at resilience in the women, who are now 75 to over 100 years of age.
“We have an ongoing study of COVID in over 45,000 of the WHI women,” Wactawski-Wende added. “In Buffalo, we are also looking at the impacts of caregiving in our participants. In addition, we have an ongoing study of periodontal disease, the oral microbiome and health outcomes.”
Approximately 70,000 women are currently participating in the study 25 years later. “A notable aspect of this study is that about 70,000 women who participated are still alive and continuing to provide input,” Wactawski-Wende said.