$5 million grant funds partnership, studies of minority-based issues in reproductive health

06/23/04

Three studies currently recruiting research volunteers

HERSHEY, PA- Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., recently were awarded a $5 million collaborative research grant to establish research centers for the study of minority-based issues in reproductive health.

The goal of the Meharry-Penn State U54 Cooperative Reproductive Science Center is to establish a premier clinical research center devoted to minority-based issues in reproductive endocrinology. The grant will focus on the creation of two research core facilities at Meharry Medical College that will mirror those at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and four research studies. The partnership, particularly the establishment of core facilities at Meharry, will help that institution to secure future additional research funding, and will allow Penn State Hershey Medical Center to expand its research program in reproductive endocrinology by partnering in joint studies.

"This is an opportunity for Meharry Medical College and Penn State Hershey Medical Center to unite to become a powerhouse in terms of reproductive research opportunities," said Richard S. Legro, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and co-principal investigator for the study. "This really is a situation in which both institutions and patients everywhere truly will benefit by the information that's obtained from these studies."

Valerie Montgomery-Rice, M.D., chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution, said both institutions bring unique strengths to the partnership and a largely homogeneous patient population, Meharry's being primarily African-American, and Penn State Hershey Medical Center's being primarily Caucasian.

"This is really an opportunity for our two institutions to really bridge a gap and address some of the health disparity issues in women's health," Montgomery-Rice said. "When you look at what happens to women with osteoporosis, polycystic ovary syndrome and fibroids, the outcomes of those disease processes are worse for African-American women. We don't know the answer to why. Looking at an age-matched group of Caucasians and African Americans will help to establish baseline differences."

Laurence Demers, Ph.D., distinguished professor of pathology and medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, will help Meharry set up a Core Endocrine Laboratory similar to the one Demers directs at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Vern Chinchilli, Ph.D., interim chair and professor of health evaluation sciences, and Gary Chase, Ph.D., professor of health evaluation sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, will help Meharry establish a Biostatistics Core.

In addition to establishing the cores, Legro and colleagues from Penn State Hershey Medical Center will take part in four research studies investigating the differences in reproductive endocrinology in minorities that in some cases predisposes them and, in others, protects them, from reproductive morbidities.

For example, previous studies have shown that higher levels of sex steroids in African-Americans predispose them to a number of reproductive conditions including higher prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome, benign tumors, and contribute to gynecological cancers. While the increased steroids pose some risks, they also seem to provide protection from osteoporosis.

"The mechanisms explaining racial differences in these diseases are poorly understood and this center proposes a number of interrelated projects to address this lack of knowledge," Legro said. "The clinical projects focus on this major theme with the goal of understanding the differences to improve the reproductive care of minorities that are disproportionately affected by certain reproductive disorders."

Three of the clinical studies that are part of this grant are currently recruiting participants. One study aims to determine whether female hormone levels are higher in African-American compared to Caucasian females. The study will measure both the differences in hormone levels in the normal menstrual cycle, as well as determine reasons for differences. It also will examine the effects of hormone levels on bone.

Another study will determine if uterine fibroids, tumors found in smooth muscle on the uterus, grow faster when women are taking birth control pills.

This research will help to determine whether physicians should change the practice of giving birth control pills to women who have abnormal bleeding because of fibroids. Additionally, the study will investigate whether African-American women, who more commonly have fibroids than women of other races, have higher levels of female sex hormones, which also could make the fibroids grow faster.

A third study will examine the effects of a combination of two drug therapies and lifestyle intervention in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes irregular periods, inability to get pregnant and excessive facial and body hair.

All three of these studies offer participants compensation for their participation. For more information about the studies or to find out how to participate, visit pennstatewomenshealth.com, or contact Patsy Rawa, study coordinator, 800-585-9585, 717-531-3692 or prawa@psu.edu.

Legro's involvement as a principle investigator in the Reproductive Medicine Network (RMN), a group of eight academic medical centers that have received National Institutes of Health funding to study reproductive medicine issue, and his professional relationship with the dean of Meharry Medical College, PonJola Coney, M.D., prompted the partnership. Both Legro and Coney are reproductive endocrinologists. Both the Meharry-Penn State grant and the RMN are sponsored by and overseen at the National Institutes of Health by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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