Research on women’s health has stalled for decades. A Wash U bioengineer is changing that
Research on women’s health has been underfunded for decades. That fact was highlighted by first lady Jill Biden in November as the White House announced the nation’s first initiative for women’s health research.
“Every woman I know has a story about leaving her doctor’s office with more questions than answers,” Biden said. “Not because our doctors are withholding information, but because there’s just not enough research yet on how to best manage and treat even common women’s health conditions.”
Closing that gap will take the work of researchers like Washington University bioengineer Michelle Oyen, who is using materials science to study long-term complications related to maternal and fetal death. Oyen welcomed the White House announcement.
“I would say guardedly, optimistically, that it's very exciting,” she said. “It draws attention to the fact that women's health is a combination of both reproductive and nonreproductive health. … Both of those things are understudied and need to be studied more — not one at the exclusion of the other.”
Oyen hopes the initiative brings increased funding to researchers, whose work will eventually influence clinical practice and lead to new treatments, devices and medicines. She would also like to see the initiative encourage the acceptance of discussing women’s health issues in the open.
“Most people don't realize almost 50% of women have their uterus removed before age 65,” she said. “I've made it my absolute goal in life to talk about these things as much as possible — to see if I can floor a room every time I go into it with the fact that 10% of babies are preterm, that the maternal mortality rate is rising, [and] that so many women have a uterus removed for various different reasons. We just have to get over the shame and embarrassment of talking about some of these organs and bring them into general conversation.”
Learn more about recent initiatives to support women’s health research, as well as Michelle Oyen’s work combining natural and synthetic materials to replicate parts of the reproductive system, by listening to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.