May 4, 2011
"Reproductive health challenges — including adolescent and unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive cancers, obesity and postpartum hemorrhage — remain daunting and intractable, both in Chicago and around the world," says Melissa Gilliam, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago.
Sexual and reproductive health encompasses the reproductive processes, functions and systems at all stages of life and their effects on physical, emotional and social well-being. A single component of reproductive health - the timing of birth- contributes to the likelihood of survival of both the mother and infant, to early nutrition and achievement of developmental milestones, and to family economic and educational opportunities, among many other factors.
Gilliam is organizing The Center for Sexual and Reproductive Biology, Health and Behavior, a new University initiative to better address the complex interplay of biology and behavior in sexual and reproductive health. The Center sees a need for both new concepts and frameworks to capture the complexity of major problems in sexual and reproductive health and translating the insights from research into innovations in medical practice, human health and policy. "Our research will be interdisciplinary and problem-solving," says Gilliam.
Since hosting a workshop that convened more than 100 faculty members in September 2010, Gilliam has led the process of writing a white paper with collaborators that outlines the Center's organizing goals and core themes. The Center's white paper has already been endorsed by over 50 faculty members from various University departments, divisions, and professional schools including the Biological Sciences Division, Social Sciences Division, School of Social Service Administration, Harris School, Chicago Booth, Divinity School, and Chapin Hall. The Center will support the inclusion of women and children's reproductive health within these and other University of Chicago entities.
In developing the Center, Gilliam is collaborating with the Global Health Initiative; Center for Health and the Social Sciences; Urban Health Initiative; North Shore Hospital; Population Research Center; Center for Race, Policy and Culture; Chapin Hall for Children; Urban Education Institute; Center for Human and Public Policy and other University of Chicago initiatives, as well as Planned Parenthood of Illinois and other community organizations. The Center's scope will include local, national and global health and has developed a collaboration with the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in conjunction with the Global Health Initiative.
With an anticipated launch in 2012, the Center will work to improve the lives, clinical care and health of women and children; to create new knowledge; and to promote education by having faculty, staff and students from diverse disciplines focus on reproductive health issues.
"We need to create improved mechanisms to facilitate collaborative research, conduct multidisciplinary research and raise the profile of the University's expertise in the area of reproductive health in order to attract the best scholars and students to the Center," Gilliam says.
Collaboration is the key
Arete, a University of Chicago initiative that helps catalyze large-scale projects that cross departmental, divisional, and even institutional lines, has been involved from the beginning of this project in 2009 when Gilliam first approached Arete with her idea for the new Center. "It's not enough to have a good idea," Gilliam says. "Fortunately, Arete has been there, acting as an invaluable ally and catalyst for helping me figure out how to realize that idea."
Arete has helped Gilliam plan her next steps; strategize about whom to work with in the administration and on the faculty; raise funds; and stay focused. It also organized a workshop to engage potential faculty collaborators in the work of the Center.
Although the Center is not anticipating an official launch until next year, several working groups are already actively organizing and planning for grant opportunities. The working group on Sexually Transmitted Infections has already completed its first submission. Other active working groups are collaborating around the topics and themes identified during the September workshop and include: global women's health (postpartum hemorrhage, HIV/AIDS, preeclampsia, family planning); sexually transmitted infections; teen and unintended pregnancy; youth development (educational attainment, violence, family dynamics, reproductive health sexuality education); and obesity among women and children as it influences reproductive health.
The Center is enabling faculty from across the University to collaborate who haven't yet worked together. Sexual and reproductive health challenges have been of longstanding interest to private foundations and individual philanthropists, and interdisciplinary research around the topic is becoming increasingly prevalent among the federal agencies. With the growing trend toward applying interdisciplinary, translational, and problem solving approaches to these challenges, Arete anticipates that the Center's team approach to these issues will be a great fit for many current funding opportunities.