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Addressing the biggest health threat to American women through research and representation

| Written by:
Tina Karimi

Tina Karimi

Contributing Editor, Verily

Facing a crisis in heart disease, then responsible for half of all American deaths, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced American Heart Month in February 1964 "to give heed to the nationwide problem...and support the programs required to bring about its solution."

This February, we celebrate the fifty sixth anniversary of American Heart Month – as well as the fiftieth anniversary of Black History Month. As we recognize these observances, it's important to note that there is an intersection between health outcomes and ethnicity within the United States – one that is particularly magnified when accounting for gender.

Since 1964, heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality for American women, claiming six times as many lives as breast cancer. Evidence shows that heart disease disproportionately impacts women of color, claiming the lives of more black women than all forms of cancer, accidents, assaults and Alzheimer's disease combined. In fact, black women in their 20s are nearly 10 times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.

Historically, researchers largely studied heart disease in men, with relatively low diversity in study populations. The resulting gaps in scientific data inherently constrain our ability to understand and treat cardiovascular disease (or CVD) in women and minority groups. For instance, new evidence shows that women may experience different heart attack symptoms than men, and current clot-busting drugs and heart-related medical procedures are not as effective in women. Despite signs of gender-based efficacy differences, a recent review of heart research revealed that women comprised only 27% of the pooled population of more than 250 trials. It's estimated that only 3.2% of women in CVD clinical trials globally are black. Further, existing research on CVD in Latino and Asian communities is even more limited, potentially masking disparities among different ethnic subgroups.

Research Goes Red, a collaboration between the American Heart Association and Project Baseline, aims to change these statistics by addressing traditional disparities in research representation. Launched in 2019 during American Heart Month, Research Goes Red is bringing together women from all backgrounds to combat their greatest health threat. Women can participate in surveys and focus groups, contribute data for clinical research projects and test new tools, technologies and treatments in years to come.

"For many of us, when we go to the doctor, we assume there's an entire view of the body, but especially for women, there are sometimes many unanswered questions," says Nancy Brown, CEO, American Heart Association. "Research Goes Red empowers our growing and passionate community of committed and engaged women to share their health information to greatly enhance what we know about women's heart disease and potentially help prevent it."

Designed as a digitally-focused study, Research Goes Red enables women to contribute in a way that's easy, non-invasive, and meaningful. "Project Baseline is a multi-faceted effort: as a clinical research initiative, a scientific and participant community, and technology platform, we're broadly focused on making research participation more accessible," said Jessica Mega, MD MPH cardiologist and chief medical and scientific officer, Verily. "One important way we do this is by allowing research to occur both in and outside of the clinic. Traditionally, research participation can be arduous, requiring people to travel to research sites and spend long hours in labs for weeks to months on end. Our hope is that addressing these barriers will help a broad group of women get involved, in a way that doesn't conflict with their busy lives."

To learn more about Research Goes Red and its mission to change the statistics around women and heart disease, visit our website.

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