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UK university receives £7m for women’s health research

The funding will help researchers better understand areas of women’s health that have been under-studied

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The University of Exeter has been awarded a series of grants to advance research into women’s health.

More than £7m in new funding will boost research into women’s reproductive health, after a series of grants were awarded to University of Exeter researchers.

The awards are hoped to help researchers progress on areas that have been under-studied globally, including menopausal symptoms, hormonal imbalances and reproductive ageing.

“Having long-term funding for our research will enable us to really drive forward discoveries in women’s reproductive health, which is fundamental to finding new treatments,” said Professor Anna Murray, professor of human genetics at the University of Exeter Medical School.

“Our studies address an important and under-researched area of medicine and inform us about how reproductive ageing affects women’s health and wellbeing.”

Professor Murray is leading a £5.6m Wellcome Discovery Award with colleagues at University of Cambridge, University of Copenhagen and Imperial College, London, to further research into reproductive conditions such as infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Funding for the Healthy Reproductive Ageing (HERA) study will enable Professor Murray and colleagues to continue their work which has previously highlighted how the discovery of genes linked to menopause and puberty are crucial in understanding reproductive ageing in women.

Murray has also received funding of £800,000 from the Medical Research Council for research with colleagues from the University of Exeter, University of Melbourne and the University of Bristol, which will look at menopause symptoms of over 700,000 women to look for new genetic links in order to improve future treatment options.

Dr Katherine Ruth, lecturer in clinical and biomedical sciences, is leading on the HEALTH-PM project, who has received £1.2m in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee.

The study will use innovative epidemiology to help investigate the impact of hormonal changes across life on health after menopause – a time at which rates of disease are known to increase rapidly.

Dr Ruth said: “Women spend over one-third of their lives after menopause, yet the effects of hormone therapies, such as testosterone, remain controversial. This funding will provide a powerful opportunity to combine genetics and health records in many thousands of women to better understand such risks.

“Given the possibility for modifying hormone levels with existing therapies, this offers the potential to benefit the health of half of the ageing population.”

These latest funding announcements come after the 2021 launch of the 4M Consortium, led by Dr Gemma Sharp, associate professor at the University of Exeter.

4M recently announced a partnership with leading menstrual health app Clue and are also hosting an international conference in Exeter in June which will bring together researchers and stakeholder organisations to further conversations around menstrual and mental health in the society.

Dr Sharp said: “We welcome this latest funding for important research projects that aim to make a real difference to the lives of many women.

“Women’s health research has been historically underfunded, despite the huge impact that reproductive health can have on women’s quality of life.”

She added: “It’s great to see Exeter leading the charge on these significant studies and establishing itself as a potential global leader in women’s health studies.”

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Labcorp launches screening test to identify preeclampsia risk sooner

The new screening tool is capable of assessing the risk of preeclampsia sooner, the test maker says

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Labcorp has launched a screening test that can assess the risk of preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can develop during pregnancy or postpartum and is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Roughly one in 25 pregnancies in the US is affected by preeclampsia, which poses an even greater risk for non-Hispanic black women, who experience the condition at a 60 per cent higher rate compared to white women.

In January, Labcorp announced the launch and availability of an FDA-cleared blood test for risk assessment and clinical management of severe preeclampsia during the second and third trimesters.

The first trimester test uses four early pregnancy biomarkers to provide a risk assessment with up to 90 per cent sensitivity, nearly twice the sensitivity of assessing typical maternal history or biophysical factors alone.

According to Labcorp, the test results provide risk identification earlier than traditional symptoms, such as hypertension or protein in the urine, which tend to develop around 20 weeks gestation.

Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, said: “Our organisation celebrates this innovative new test offering.

“Research shows that patients and providers want access to more tools that better predict progression to preeclampsia, especially for those patients with low- to average-risk or those with first-time pregnancies for whom there is some uncertainty.”

Dr Brian Caveney, chief medical and scientific officer at Labcorp, added: “Labcorp is committed to advancing maternal and foetal health through innovative diagnostic and screening solutions.

“This new first trimester blood test is another significant milestone in our mission to improve health and improve lives. By giving healthcare providers another tool to assess preeclampsia risk in their pregnant patients with objective biomarkers, we’re helping to advance prenatal care and improve outcomes for mothers and their babies.”

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People with HIV can be sperm and egg donors

A change in law will allow people with non-transmissible HIV in the UK to donate gametes to partners

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Same-sex couples with non-transmissible HIV will now be able to donate eggs or sperm and become parents.

People with HIV will able to donate their sperm or eggs to their partners, as the law in the UK is updated.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act will be amended via a statutory instrument to allow people with non-transmissible HIV – with a viral load low enough not to pass on – to donate eggs or sperm, known as gametes, as part of fertility treatment to their partners.

Under current rules on IVF, only a male partner with HIV can give their sperm to their female partner and not to anyone else.

The law change will also eliminate extra screening costs for female same-sex couples undertaking reciprocal IVF treatment.

The government says this is part of wider work to improve access to IVF for everyone and ensure same-sex couples have the same rights as a man and woman when trying to conceive.

“These changes will allow more people to fulfil their dream of becoming parents,” said UK health minister, Maria Caulfield.

“We have changed the law to ensure equality for people living with HIV when accessing IVF, allowing them to donate their eggs and sperm.

“In addition, the change will allow female same-sex couples to access IVF with no extra screening costs, the same as heterosexual couples.”

She added: “These changes will help create a fairer system by removing barriers to accessing fertility care as we have set out in the Women’s Health Strategy.”

The changes to the law will allow people with HIV to donate their gametes to family, friends and known recipients.

The regulations include an updated definition of partner donation to enable female same-sex couples wishing to donate eggs to each other to undergo the same testing requirements as heterosexual couples.

Under current rules, female same-sex couples hoping to conceive via reciprocal IVF must first go through screening for syphilis and genetic screening, such as cystic fibrosis, which can cost over £1,000, while heterosexual couples do not need to undergo this screening.

Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said: “The HFEA welcomes the news that legislation regarding partner donation in relation to reciprocal IVF, and gamete donation from those who have HIV with an undetectable viral load, has now been proposed in Parliament.

“Fertility treatment is helping more people than ever to create their family, and everyone undergoing fertility treatment should be treated fairly.

“For known donation from individuals with undetectable HIV, we anticipate that the first clinics may be able to begin to offer this treatment around 3 months following a change in the law.

“We encourage any patients or donors who may be affected by these changes to visit the HFEA website to find out free and impartial information, including about how to choose a fertility clinic.”

Minister for equalities, Stuart Andrew MP, added: “Treatment for HIV has improved significantly, saving countless lives, but the stigma surrounding it persists – a stigma which often prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment.

“These changes will help to reduce that stigma, making it clear that people with HIV can live full and happy lives. I am delighted by these changes which will enable more people to experience the joy of becoming parents.”

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Portfolia invests total of US$65m into women’s health companies

The platform has invested in 47 femtech start-ups to date

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Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia

The US venture investing platform Portfolia has announced it has invested a total of US$65m into women’s health companies and solutions.

Portfolia aims to create, educate and support the largest community of women investors in the world.

The company says it was amongst the first to recognise the “immense” potential of women’s wealth, with women’s health at the forefront.

To date, Portfolia has made investments in 112 companies with 47 of those women’s health companies being femtech and active aging specific.

Some of these include Madison Reed, Maven, Everly Health, Bone Health, Veana, Your Choice, Future Family, Willow, Hey Jane, Lighthouse Pharma, L-Nutra and JoyLux.

The total companies Portfolia has invested in are estimated to serve over 102 million customers in 115 countries worldwide.

These companies have a combined value of over US$17bn, with over US$1bn in revenue and 10,000 employees worldwide.

According to Portfolia, almost 70 per cent of these businesses are led by female CEOs, and 49 per cent are led by BIPOC individuals.

“At Portfolia, we believe in the power of activating our wealth for returns and impact,” said Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia.

“Today, women in the United States have unprecedented access to wealth – with over US$25tn of wealth in the US and almost 50 per cent of it owned by women.

“This wealth is power – power to create financial change and invest in the companies and businesses that matter to us and meet our needs/desires.”

She added: “Our commitment goes beyond traditional venture capital – we’re pioneering change, saving lives, and creating opportunities for all, while creating the most powerful community of women investors globally, and the first to activate our wealth to shape the future of healthcare.”

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