University at Buffalo Marks 20 Years as Women’s Health Initiative Vanguard Center

Jean Wactawski-Wende with a framed copy of the 1993 UB Reporter story headlined: Key role for UB in landmark study of women’s health. Twenty years after that initial grant award, UB is now a regional center for WHI research, which Wactawski-Wende directs. The WHI has resulted in more than $30 million in research funding for UB.

Published May 3, 2013

The University at Buffalo SUNY School of Public Health and Health Professions recently marked its 20th year as a vanguard center with the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), the landmark women’s health study and the largest clinical trial ever undertaken in the U.S. The National Institutes of Health contract began in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and is now managed by the School of Public Health and Health Professions, led by principal investigator Dr. Jean Wactawski-Wende, professor and associate chair of the department of social and preventive medicine, and vice provost for strategic initiatives. 

The University at Buffalo will oversee the scientific direction and the participant contacts of the Northeast region’s nine institutions: Harvard University, Brown University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, University of Massachusetts at Worcester, Stony Brook University, George Washington University, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Medstar Health Research Institute, in addition to University at Buffalo.

WHI is the largest study ever undertaken in the U.S., originally involving more than 162,000 women across the nation, including nearly 4,000 in Buffalo. The goal of WHI was to gather essential clinical data on the major diseases affecting women, on whom remarkably few studies had ever been done.

WHI is best known for what it revealed about hormone therapy through the clinical trials done in these postmenopausal women. “It completely changed what we thought about hormone therapy,” said Dr. Wactawski-Wende. She noted that prior to the WHI, one-third of the prescriptions for the most commonly prescribed hormone replacement were given for chronic disease prevention before a single clinical trial had been done to determine that hormone therapy actually was able to prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.

Perhaps the most important piece of the WHI research at the University at Buffalo was the development of a comprehensive biospecimen bank, containing hundreds of thousands of biological samples provided by the Western New York women who participate in the WHI. Those samples and all the data that WHI continues to collect, said Dr. Wactawski-Wende, are keys to some of the most valuable research ever done on women’s health. This treasure trove of information has led to the publication of nearly 1,000 scientific publications from all of the WHI institutions and investigators. About 1,000 more publications are in the pipeline.