Massachusetts General Hospital
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
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The Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory

FOR SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE BRAIN

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ABOUT US

Director: Jill M. Goldstein, PhD

The Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory of Sex Differences in the Brain integrates scientists from clinical and basic neuroscience perspectives to address questions of why men and women are at different risks for psychiatric disorders and their comorbidity with general medical disorders, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD). The work of the lab takes a lifespan approach to their investigations targeting naturalistic windows of opportunity for the study of sex differences when the brain and body are differentially flooded or depleted of gonadal hormones, e.g., fetal development and puberty, and, for female-specific periods, pregnancy and the menopausal transition compared to age-matched men. The work in the lab is particularly focused on the roles of steroid hormones, genes, and markers of immune function in understanding sex effects in major depression, psychoses, memory decline with aging and comorbidity of these with cardiometabolic disorders. We believe that an understanding of these hormonal, genetic, and immune pathways will provide knowledge for the development of sex-dependent or sex-specific therapeutics.

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Research 

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Women, Heart and Brain Global Initiative

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The CNL sits in the broader context of this recently launched initiative, a collaborative effort between Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, partnering with the Women's Heart Alliance and WomenAgainstAlzheimer's

Founder and Executive Director, Jill M. Goldstein, Ph.D.  Massachusetts General Hospital
Director of Global Policy & Programs, Ana Langer, M.D. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Goals

Develop

Develop a more robust scientific entity on shared pathophysiology for understanding sex differences in disorders of the heart and brain, i.e., disorders of mood, cardiometabolic function, and memory.

 

Collaboration

Build stronger ties between the academic enterprise, clinical services, programs and policies across Harvard and other institutions in the US and globally

Translation

Accelerate translation – preclinical to clinical, to practice, programs, and policy

Education

Strengthen pedagogy in the field of women’s health and sex differences in medicine

Awareness

Increase visibility and awareness at the local, national, and global levels

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Our Mission

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, impacting over half of American women, and those in most middle-income countries. Additionally, the World Health Organization reported that major depressive disorder topped ischemic heart disease as the number one cause of disability worldwide, and women have twice the risk. In fact, the prevalence of the comorbidity of depression and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is >20%, is significantly higher in women than men, and when present together results in a 3-to-5-fold risk of death from heart disease. Finally, depression, CVD and metabolic syndromes (like obesity and diabetes) are independent risk factors for memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease in later life, also with a 1.5-fold higher frequency in women than men, and not simply due to longevity. Thus, understanding the brain-heart connections and how these differ by sex is critical for understanding risks and resilience for maintaining healthy aging across the lifespan.

There are growing efforts to decrease the gaps in knowledge about the impact of sex on diseases of the heart and brain, although they occur independently in departmental silos. Further, available evidence has not been effectively translated into policies and programs to improve women’s health outcomes across the life course. In order to address these critical gaps, we launched the Women, Heart and Brain Global Initiative (WHBGi), a collaborative effort between Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH), partnering with the Women's Heart Alliance and WomenAgainstAlzheimer's. This is a novel collaborative effort that crosses disciplines, departments, fields, levels of analyses, and institutions, that will integrate research, education, and action to better understand and address sex differences in the heart and brain in the U.S. and globally, in the context of the pervasive gender disparities that increase women’s vulnerabilities. Such an effort will accelerate the development of novel policy, programmatic and clinical approaches, including therapeutics, which are sex-dependent or sex-specific, and more effective in alleviating the burden of disease nationally and globally.