In Brief

A National Institutes of Health task force on women's health predicts that women's health research will expand in the coming century into "the larger concept of gender-specific medicine," in which women's health will no longer be "divorced from mainstream medicine."

In its report, "Agenda for Research on Women's Health for the 21st Century," the task force concludes that "thoughtful scientists now see women as important sources of new information that will correct essentially male models of normal function and disease."

In its recommendations for future research, women's health studies "must include the full biological life cycle: the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur," the report says.

Among the recommendations:

  • More women—including those who are pregnant—should be enrolled in safety trials. Among ways to tell if treatments are safe is to conduct research into the "incremental effectiveness" of combination therapies. For example, what are the side effects on patients of simultaneous administration of calcium and vitamin D?
  • Research should be conducted with specific populations, including medically underserved women. The task force suggested, for example, studies on homeless and impoverished women, women of color with disabilities, adolescents, lesbians, elderly women or women inmates.
  • Multidisciplinary research is essential. Scientists should collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines to expand research in fields such as alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Information systems should be designed to allow easier access to archival material on clinical studies. Information needs to be readily available to consumers so they can understand options available to them, for example, in managing pregnancy and delivery.
  • Mentoring programs for girls should encourage them toward science courses and careers, including programs linking high schools to universities.

—J. VOLZ