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Rebecca D. Jackson, M.D.

Photo of Rebecca D. Jackson, M.D.Rebecca D. Jackson, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Women's Health Initiative Sequencing Project (WHISP)

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Atherothrombosis and Coronary Artery Disease Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $2,117,232

Additional Funding:
Women's Health Initiative Sequencing Project (WHISP)
Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Atherothrombosis and Coronary Artery Disease Branch
FY 2010 Recovery Act Funding: $2,411,094
More information about the grant
Total funding: $4,528,326

Rebecca D. Jackson, M.D., began as a basic scientist, but over time, she grew interested in medically related questions. One of her current passions is research on issues related to women's health.

Research Focus: In the early 1980s, evidence was mounting that disease development and outcomes were very different for women compared to men. But it wasn't clear why, Dr. Jackson remembers.

Toward finding answers, the NIH put out a call for research to address the health concerns of post-menopausal women. The timing was perfect for her to get involved, Dr. Jackson said, since she was conducting research on osteoporosis - a disorder that disproportionately affects women over 50.

Thus, in the early 1990s, Dr. Jackson earned a spot as one of the research leaders of the Women's Health Initiative, or WHI. This important project followed more than 161,000 postmenopausal American women from diverse ethnic and geographic backgrounds for several years, beginning in 1993. WHI scientists have been studying many conditions beyond osteoporosis and bone fractures, including cardiovascular disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and dementia. Collectively, these are among the most common causes of death, disability, and poor quality-of-life among postmenopausal women.

Over the years, WHI results have had a big impact on women's health, showing that overall risks of long-term use of hormone therapy to ease menopause symptoms outweigh the benefits and that hormone therapy does not prevent heart disease, a key question of the study. Other findings have linked calcium and vitamin D supplements with a modest benefit on bone health in postmenopausal women.

Grant Close-Up: Thanks to the Recovery Act, Dr. Jackson is leading a team to take WHI research to a new level, as one of seven researchers awarded funds to be part of the NHLBI Large-Scale DNA Sequencing Project. This massive effort aims to find gene variations that contribute to cardiovascular diseases by thoroughly scouring the DNA from people who participated in several different long-range studies, called cohort studies. The WHI is one of these studies.

Dr. Jackson's piece of the project, the WHI Sequencing Project, or WHISP, will examine DNA from WHI study participants. By comparing DNA sequences from women with and without heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis, the scientists hope to identify genetic signatures for these illnesses, ultimately helping to precisely define risk.

The huge collection of well-studied samples and health records from research participants is a rich source of information for scientists. But Dr. Jackson doesn't for a minute forget that her research is about real people. She takes great pride in working with those who participate in clinical research.

"These wonderful women gave their time, their effort and their trust," Dr. Jackson said. "They derived little personal benefit, but instead participated in research for the benefit of future generations of women."

The NHLBI Large-Scale DNA Sequencing Project will also help researchers learn how cardiovascular diseases pass from parents to children. Dr. Jackson's ultimate goal is to understand how these diseases work as well as to improve screening, prevention and treatment.

The Fabric of Health: Every woman who participates in the WHI has a story to tell, Dr. Jackson said, explaining that about 1,000 participants at Ohio State got together and developed a quilt project. Colorful faces and patterns on these squares of fabric, each with a companion journal entry, describe a personal account of what the WHI has meant to each of these women.

The walls of Dr. Jackson's clinical research area at the Ohio State University Medical Center are lined with the quilts, providing daily inspiration to researchers, volunteers and staff.

Economic Impact: Dr. Jackson's project continues to boost the Ohio economy, where the WHI is an ongoing draw for specialized researchers and health workers.

By Alison Davis, Ph.D.

Last Updated:August 10, 2010

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