Interview with the Women’s Brain Project

An Interview with:

  • Antonella Santuccione Chadha, CEO and Co-Founder
  • Maria Teresa Ferretti, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder 
  • Annemarie Schumacher, President and Co-Founder 
  • Ewelina Biskup, Executive Committee member              

1. First of all, tell us about the Women’s Brain Project. What work do you do? What are your objectives?

The Women’s Brain Project is an international non-profit organisation advocating for women’s brain and mental health.

Founded in 2016, we are a group of scientists specialised in various disciplines including medicine, neuroscience, psychology, and pharmacy. Women are at higher risk of several brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, migraine, anxiety disorders and multiple sclerosis. Moreover, inequities in the socio-economic landscape lead to higher exposure for girls and women in relation to specific health risk factors.

 

Through our activities, we collaborate with policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, caregivers, patients, relatives, and other stakeholders to advance a global discussion on gender and sex determinants of vulnerability to brain and mental disease.

The Women’s Brain Project (WBP) has four key workstreams:

 

 

  • WS1 – Pre-clinical science
  • WS2 – Clinical science and policy
  • WS3 – Caregivers and socioeconomic themes
  • WS4 – New technologies

Everything starts from the four workstreams and every workstream has different activities in the following areas:

 

 

  • Publish high impact peer-reviewed papers that address sex and gender differences in brain and mental health. Deliver presentations at various scientific high level conferences, as well as engaging in collaborations with various gender medicine faculties worldwide.
  • Promote basic, clinical, social and artificial intelligence (AI) research that can help identify tools for better diagnosis, treatment and care in brain and mental health conditions affecting women.
  • Advocate by generating social awareness and providing a platform for women passionate about and/or suffering from brain and mental diseases.
  • Engage policymakers, scientists, patients, drug developers, regulators and organizations to discuss evidence on female vulnerability to brain and mental disease, and propose solutions.

    The main objective is to stimulate change with regards to sex and gender differences in various aspects of brain health, including clinical trials, social science and diagnostics.

2. What are your policy priorities?

Our main policy priority is to implement changes in women’s mental health and brain diseases. This involves engaging with a wider range of stakeholders, including governments, regulators and funding agencies.

 

We want to ensure that sex and gender differences in the field of mental health and brain diseases are recognised along the whole journey, from pre-clinical and clinical trials, social care to novel technologies.

 

We believe strongly that sex and gender specific health measures, in particular, in the areas of brain diseases and mental health, should be discussed by European governments and become high on the global policy agenda. In this context, the role of prevention is key and in terms of treatment precision medicine will ultimately ensure cost savings.

3. How do you engage with policymakers?

We are engaged with policymakers in a number of settings:

4. Why are women at higher risk of several brain diseases?

This is the one million dollar question! We don’t exactly have an answer to your question, but that’s exactly why we are here. We think it’s important to study and find evidence to explain this situation.

 

There are some theories:

 

  • The involvement of hormones, changes through women’s reproductive life, especially during the menopause.
  • The immune system. This is different between men and women.

We need a lot more research to find out more the different vulnerability for women.

 

The socio-economic perspective is also critical. Educational disadvantages are linked to various health risks and women tend to be overrepresented in this regard. For example, lower education and caregiving are related to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Lower income is linked to general health risk and poor healthcare.

 

Women in their caregiver role are also more likely to be at risk of depression and burn-out. Considering that women in general have a greater risk of depression, this combination augments the risk factors.

 

Furthermore, women access diagnostic and treatment options in a different way than men do. Sex and gender biases in medicine put women at a distinct disadvantage. This is where education is needed. In particular, medical books need to be re-written by women’s hands. Our greatest advocates are when doctors become patients themselves.

5. How do you engage with patients and caregivers?

We want to give patients and caregivers a voice.

 

Our work with Sofia Petersson, a patient with young-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. We host her blog – Sofia’s Corner – on our website.

Sofia Petersson - profile picture
Sofia Petersson

Patients and caregivers have a key role in designing our International Forum on Women’s Brain & Mental Health.

 

We have also started our collaboration with the European Federation of Neurological Associations (EFNA) and are also partnering with other patient organisations, such as, the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Europe.

 

We are a patient-centric organisation, where patients are a central part of our work and recommendations.

6. Please tell us more about International Forum on Women’s Brain & Mental Health, 8-9 June, 2019 in Zurich, Switzerland. What are your plans for the International Forum on Women’s Brain & Mental Health in 2020?

The goal of the International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health is to bring together experts and representatives from a wide range of scientific disciplines and various fields of practice contributing to the study and improvement of mental and brain health. Moreover, the inclusion of patients, caregivers and other individuals impacted by brain and mental health issues in their daily life keeps the ongoing debate relevant and focused. All stakeholders have an equal voice in the constructive and actionable discussions on considering the influence of sex and gender in brain and mental health research.

 

The International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health in 2019 focused on the topic of Sex and Gender Differences in Mental and Brain Health: The Gateway to Precision Medicine. 100 cross-sectoral leaders and international experts called for sex & gender to be considered as proper variables in scientific research, to achieve equalitarian precision medicine, particularly in brain and mental health.

 

Experts discussed at length the best way to leverage sex and gender differences towards precision medicine. The Forum also took a look to the future, towards digital medicine and AI.

Forum photos

 “We have to move from shallow medicine towards personalised, precision medicine using mobile, edible, and transplantable devices which will allow permanent monitoring and consequently new learnings about disease trajectories and relative solutions.”

 

Antonella Santuccione Chadha, CEO and Co-Founder

 

The next International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health will take place in Zurich on 19-20 September 2020.

7. Who is Sophia - the Advanced Humanoid Robot?  

We believe that sex and gender biases are also embedded in AI and novel technologies.

 

Most genomic studies are carried out using European and male populations.

 

We give you an example, if you want to have a drug on the Japanese market you have to do a dedicated study for the Japanese population, with the evidence that the Japanese metabolise drugs differently. We also know that women metabolise drugs differently than men, but no one is asking for specific studies looking at this.

 

Sophia, the Advanced Humanoid Robot, is our tech advocate. What does she think about sex and gender biases? She has highlighted that: “Right now AI is limited by a lack of diversity and training data leading to built-in assumptions that lean towards a white male perspective. When women and other diverse groups get involved, the full potential of AI to help all humans can be unleashed.” 

Woman's Brain Project - Sofia AI
Sophia - the Advanced Humanoid Robot


8. What are your key activities for the rest of 2019 and into 2020?

Our most important ongoing activities include:

 

  • Advocacy
  • Educational workshops for the general public
  • Engagement at Congresses
  • Publication of books / papers / journals
  • Teaching at universities
  • Ongoing research on the topic
  • Organising the next Forum
  • Scaling up the organisation, including long-term sustainability and funding

9. How do you work with corporate sponsors and partners?

We start to propose corporate sponsorship to those companies that share our vision and interest. It’s mostly the pharmaceutical industry, but not necessarily. We work with other types of companies too, including those dealing with tech. We can teach, provide courses and share our knowledge with sponsors. We have opportunities for corporate members, for single memberships, for donors, and the Forum sponsorship.

10. What would overarching policy success look like to you?

11. How can the public at large support the Women’s Brian Project?

People can become members….come to the Forum….spread the word…..share awareness and make some noise!

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