Virginia M. Miller, Ph.D., leads Sex Differences research that encompasses a Specialized Centers of Research (SCOR) on Sex Differences, funded through a National Institute on Aging (NIA) P50 grant.

The Mayo Clinic SCOR on Sex Differences is 1 of 11 such centers in the country, enabling Mayo to remain a competitive leader on research of sex differences, which is growing internationally as a distinct scientific discipline.

Traditionally, research teams have not taken a sex-based approach to investigations of etiology, manifestations or treatments of diseases, except in reproduction and urology. This area of individualized medicine facilitates incorporation of sex determinants of health, disease and treatments in patient care.

Sex differences in diseases and conditions fall into three main categories, including those:

  • Specific to one sex
  • Disproportionately affecting one sex
  • Having distinct causes, manifestations and outcomes; or treatments in one sex compared with the other

Cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline are two potentionally related conditions disproportionately affecting men and women across their life spans, with distinct differences in manifestations, responses to treatment, morbidity and mortality.

For example:

  • Development of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, occurs about 10 years earlier in men than in women, but increases exponentially in women following menopause.
  • Conventional treatments for hypertension reduce blood pressure in both men and women, but these treatments are likely to result in normotensive levels in women.
  • Two sex-specific conditions associated with major hormonal changes in women can affect the development of hypertension: Pregnancy and menopause.
  • There are documented sex differences in cognitive health after a cerebrovascular event.

Therefore, the overarching theme of this SCOR's sex differences research is to understand how female-specific conditions associated with major hormonal shifts — specifically hypertensive pregnancy disorders and menopausal estrogen deficiency or menopausal hormone therapy — affect cerebrovascular function and cognition in women.