Prof. Elena Moro interviews
Dr. Antonella Santuccione-Chadha, (WBP Chief Executive Officer)
Dr. Maria Teresa Ferretti (WBP Chief Scientific Officer)
Elena Moro (EM): Dear Dr Santuccione-Chadha thank you very much for accepting this interview for EANpages. The EAN, as leading European society in the field of neurology, is very interested in the WBP. Could you summarize the project to the readers of EANpages?
Antonella Santuccione-Chadha (ASC) & Maria Teresa Ferretti (MTF): The Women’s Brain Project (WBP) is an interdisciplinary, global non-profit organization founded in 2016 in Switzerland. Composed of academic and social scientists, medical doctors, engineers, patients, caregivers, artists and AI experts, WBP works to identify specific needs related to women’s brain and mental health, advocate for change, and position the findings for the benefit of society. To do so, the group is actively engaged in generating, reviewing, promoting and communicating scientific research on sex and gender differences in brain and mental diseases. Based on an increasing body of evidence which also WBP contributed to generate, it appears that both sex and gender factors influence the risk factors, prevalence, trajectory and treatment response in several psychiatric and neurological conditions. The WBP therefore advocates for a change in the way current solutions (therapeutic treatments or novel technologies) are designed. Taking carefully into account sex and gender differences when defining diagnostic cutoffs, designing clinical trials and training predictive algorithms, is in the WBP’s vision the gateway to precision medicine. Such approach will eventually benefit the whole society, as it will allow timely and specific solutions to reach the right patient population at the right time, consequently reducing costs for the future health system. With high-impact scientific publications, policy briefs, social media engagement and educational workshops, the WBP has launched an unprecedented campaign to foster a global discussion on the role of sex and gender in brain health, becoming a world leader in this field.
EM: The Human Brain Project, flagship of the EC, tackles a global approach to the human brain. Why do we need a project that champions women’s health and well-being?
ASC & MTF: A project championing women’s health and well-being is crucial in the context of mental and neurological disorders. In fact, according to WHO as well as the latest epidemiological studies, several brain and mental disease disproportionally affect women. This is the case for Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, anti-NMDA receptors encephalitis, migraine, multiple sclerosis, and many more. The reasons are not jet properly studied and understood. Sex differences also exist in disease progression, prognosis and response to therapy. Most likely, both biological and social factors contribute to this phenomenon. The WBP is engaging with the entire ecosystem – scientists, policy makers, drug developers, regulators, funding agencies, health care professionals and more importantly patients- so that these differences are studied and understood. While a global approach is fundamental in neuroscience, WBP believes that sex and gender differences might hold the key for several disease mechanisms and therefore potential treatments. This is where WBP differentiates from the human brain project and might nicely complement it. We hope in the near future to start a collaboration with the Human Brain Project to sensitize the stakeholders behind this initiative to the sex and gender factor as the first step to be taken into account when aiming to precise solution in mental health and well being
Another distinguishing factor of WBP is the launch of a preventive campaign for the lay public to take care of their mental health and brain well-being. We believe that this is a very much needed activity with a very high potentially to positively impact the society on a large scale. The lesson learned was derived from the cardiovascular field where a massive preventive campaign during the last decades, mainly targeted to the male population, highly reduced the number of cardiovascular events.
Finally, we created a unique platform where all relevant stakeholders meets to discuss about the specific needs for mental health and brain diseases: the International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health. To its second edition, the Forum which will be held on the 8th and 9th of June at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and will focus on precision medicine for mental and neurological disorders. The Forum comprise keynote lectures by internationally acclaimed experts and highly interactive patient centric panel discussions. The first day is focused on identifying current gaps. We will learn from world experts about sex and gender differences in biological, psychological and social aspects of brain health, and discuss why they matter. On the second day, we will give examples of the impact of sex and gender differences in your work – clinical trials, drug development and technology. Finally, we will explore the possibility of harnessing AI to reduce bias, and leverage sex and gender differences for better, personalized solutions for brain and mental health, with the help of Sophia, Advanced Humanoid (Hanson Robotics). For more information, see http://www.forum-wbp.com/.
We aim to do the same for mental and brain diseases and we believe in a very meaningful impact.
EM: Which are the main objectives and goals that you want to achieve on a scientific but also political level, and the impact you want the project to have?
ASC & MTF: Our main objective is to improve the way science is designed, and to optimize its final outcome (drugs, AI-based solutions, social care, policy) to benefit the end-consumers: the patients.
We believe that this has to be done by
- Minimizing publication bias by consistently reporting the effect of sex and gender factors in experimental results and apply proper statistical design.
- Considering sex and gender in methodological design and avoid one-sex only experiments
- Learning from the past, by revising under the sex and gender lens the clinical data from trials either successful or failed
- Considering menopausal women as a different population when stratifying results
- Promoting precision medicine, as successfully done in oncology, in order to have a quick diagnosis and tailored therapeutic approaches based on the specific features of each group of patients
This can only be done by engaging with all the relevant stakeholders and involve policy makers as well as regulators and funding agencies.
A very strong cooperation in this regard has been established between WBP and the “Alzheimer’s Disease Precision Medicine Initiative” (APMI), led by Prof. Harald Hampel, being the first international research working group dedicated to the implementation of breakthrough precision medicine for Alzheimer’s disease.
EM: What would you recommend and suggest to the young neurology community?
ASC & MTF: To carefully consider sex-differences in brain and mental disease when doing science and, above all, when advising patients. Unfortunately, medicine showed that one solution does not fit all and we should put the patient at the center, rather than the disease. It is time to do precision medicine also in neurology and invest resources in identifying patients’ subgroups with specific needs –such as women at different pathophysiological states of their life.