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Exploring sex differences in the brain

Local readers, mark your calendar for a free, public event on the medical school campus on March 6. "seXX & seXY: A Dialogue on the Female Brain and the Male Brain," will feature a variety of experts discussing sex differences in the brain and covering such topics as autism, Alzheimer's disease and obesity. The event marks the launch of the Stanford Center for Health Research on Women and Sex Differences in Medicine, which will encourage scientists to study sex differences in cells, tissues, animal models and human health outcomes across the life span, with an emphasis on women's health.

As I wrote in a story on the new endeavor:

The center will unite the many Stanford faculty members conducting health research on women and sex differences in basic biology and the influence of gender on disease. Some researchers, for example, are examining a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease that may be seen in women only. Others are studying how to tailor diagnostic tests and treatments for women, as well as men, with cardiovascular disease. The center hopes to promote further research in all medical disciplines, as well as identify clinical areas (such as health issues in gay, lesbian and transgender people) that need to be recognized in order to provide health equity for everyone.


[Directors Marcia Stefanick, PhD, and Lynn Westphal, MD,] felt strongly that the center's emphasis should not be solely on women, but also on their Y-chromosomed (and gender variant) counterparts. Women have better outcomes than men in many disease categories, but worse outcomes in others. Investigating why, for example, men have more all-cause cancers and more heart disease, and die at higher rates than women in every age category until age 80 and older, could be of clinical benefit to both sexes, they say, as will learning why women suffer more from autoimmune diseases and other illnesses.

"Understanding the reasons would shed light on diseases and allow us to tailor treatments," said Westphal.

The March 6 symposium (for which people can register here) will be followed by a general women's health forum on May 15; the events are designed to interest both a lay and professional audience.

Photo by Hey Paul Studios

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