Being a woman in medicine, and especially a woman in research, presents unique challenges. From medical school to working in the field, most women experience the consequences of bias. But researchers like Dr. Loeb and Dr. Bose are working hard to change that. These women are conducting cutting edge research that focuses on not only bridging the gender gap, but also addressing racial disparities. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are shining a spotlight on their amazing achievements. 

Understanding the Link Between Pregnancy and Asthma

Dr. Sonali Bose was a fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins when she first became involved with the Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) in 2008. Her mentor, Bob Wise, who is an ACRC principal investigator, introduced her to the program and she has worked within its framework ever since. Her current project, which focuses on how a diet high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids may be associated with improved asthma control during pregnancy, has gained special attention.

Dr. Sonali Bose Dr. Sonail Bose

“My research is focused on the developmental origins of asthma and how asthma specifically affects vulnerable populations.” she said. “If we have a better understanding of how asthma originates, then we can help to intercept its development earlier in life.” 

It is commonly known that poorly controlled asthma during pregnancy is a risk factor not only for the pregnant person but also for the fetus. It can affect the success of the pregnancy, increasing the risk of complications like pre-eclampsia and pre-term birth, as well as increase the risk of respiratory illness and asthma in a child after birth. Unfortunately, pregnant people often notice that their asthma gets worse during pregnancy. “This can happen for a variety of reasons,” Dr. Bose explained. "Some of them are biologic and have to do with how the immune system changes during pregnancy, and some involve social determinates of health and relate to access to healthcare or personal fears of taking medications during pregnancy. Others may be related to air pollution or nutrition.” 

In addition, research has shown that Black and Latino individuals are at higher risk for asthma morbidity and mortality, “We're well aware that certain populations are more at risk for respiratory problems and complications, but also uniquely they're the same population that have also historically had worse birthing outcomes.” In one of her ACRC-funded studies, individuals who are pregnant are recruited in their first trimester and are monitored for several factors (indoor air pollution, nutrition, social factors), collected through environmental monitors, detailed questionnaires and blood draws each trimester. They also monitor asthma control by administering remote spirometry tests every day for one week each trimester. 

“I think being a woman in medicine has its own unique challenges. I am happy to see that there has been a shift and there are many more female role models. It is a matter of chance that the majority of members in my lab are women, including our collaborators and trainees. But I am so happy to encourage the next generation.”

Studying COVID-19 Health Disparities

When Tamra Burns Loeb, PhD, learned about the American Lung Association’s COVID-19 and Emerging Respiratory Viruses Research Award, she thought it might be a perfect match for her research interests. Dr. Loeb works as a counseling psychologist, behavioral science researcher and an Adjunct Associate Professor at UCLA in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine. The focus of her research is identifying race-related inequities in the social determinants of health, which means she looks at how a person’s racial and ethnic background influences their health outcomes. Specifically, Dr. Loeb is interested in how these differences in health status were made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tamra Burns Loeb, PhD Tamra Burns Loeb, PhD

“It is critical to understand the impact of the many complex factors that affect an individuals’ ability to navigate challenges related to reducing COVID-19 risks,” Dr. Loeb said. Her research, which is part of a larger NIH parent study, has begun by conducting in-depth telephone interviews with 60 (40 English-speaking and 20 Spanish-speaking) Black and Latino people living with HIV and cardiovascular risks. She hopes to assess perceptions of personal and community risk, knowledge of and access to reliable COVID-19 public health information, and barriers to public health recommendations, including vaccine uptake, to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19 and emerging respiratory viruses among this vulnerable subpopulation.

Dr. Loeb’s research team is also comprised primarily of women from multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds and multidisciplinary undergraduate and Masters-level students from the fields of psychology, public health, anthropology and medicine. “I hope that by involving them in this study, they will increase their interest in pursuing careers to identify the impact of social determinants on health inequities experienced by under-resourced populations living with chronic illness,” she said.

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