In 2016 Dr. Lori Brotto, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of B.C., was named executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI), a leading academic and research centre embedded within BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre with the goal of enabling women’s health research across the spectrum. Here Brotto talks about her work and her vision.
Q: Why is the funding of women’s health research so important?
A: When women are healthy, all of society benefits…. When we study societies where women are not healthy, it is immediately evident that many different aspects of those societies suffer. Without research, excellent health care is simply not possible, and research absolutely depends on funding.
Q: What are some of the new and interesting research projects on the go at WHRI?
A: One of our star WHRI members is a world leader in the vaccine for HPV (human papillomavirus). Her collaborative and international research has the long-term aim of eventually eradicating cervical cancer (because the vaccine prevents many of the strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer). In another [initiative], we are working to develop a smartphone app designed to be culturally safe for Indigenous and immigrant women struggling with postpartum depression…. There’s so much quality work being done by our close to 200 members across B.C., but that’s just a quick snapshot.
Q: What are some of the challenges unique to studying women’s health?
A: One of the challenges is that there is no dedicated funding body for women’s health research. For example, there is the Arthritis Foundation and the Kidney Foundation, but there is no corresponding funding body for research on women’s health topics. As a result, you end up having researchers do this work totally or mostly unfunded, which means it gets done off the side of their desk, or they scrape together some volunteers, or it simply doesn’t happen.
Q: What can be done to break down barriers that prevent women from achieving their best possible health?
A: This is going to sound so clichéd but it’s so true. It’s awareness. And that’s part of the reason why I very readily accept invitations to speak with the media, because it’s only through increasing awareness and providing education to the general public—not just women, but everyone—that we will make progress. Knowledge-raising and awareness-raising campaigns are absolutely key.
Q: You have an extensive background in sex research. What role does sexual health play in the totality of a woman’s well-being?
A: Sexuality is a core part of quality of life. It’s not just this small, circumscribed, leisurely activity that some people do some of the time. Everyone, even people who are not sexually active for any number of reasons, still have a sense of their sexuality and how important that is to them. It’s a core part of people’s identity. It shapes self-esteem. It’s associated with depression, anxiety, relationship discord, infidelity—it’s all related to sexuality.
Q: The theme for this issue is ‘Women’s health warriors.’ In your opinion, what makes a warrior for women’s health?
A: Someone who is absolutely ruthless in communicating the facts about women’s health to broad audiences, despite all the barriers that might get in the way, like political barriers, systemic barriers or personal barriers. The warrior is someone who still champions the scientific voice, regardless of any potential backlash and says, “Actually, no, these are the facts.”
Written by Joseph Dubé.
Photography by Sherri Koop.
Dr. Brotto has a PhD in Psychology from UBC. She also trained at the University of Washington where she completed a one-year internship in the Department of Psychiatry followed by a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship in Reproductive and Sexual Medicine. She is a Professor in the UBC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and was the inaugural Division Head of Gynecologic Specialties until the start of this appointment. She teaches sexual health interviewing for medical students and obstetric/gynecology residents, and is a supervisor for psychology residents and practicum students. She is a Registered Psychologist with the BC College of Psychologists.
Dr. Brotto holds a Canada Research Chair in Women’s Sexual Health. She conducts research on women’s sexual health, with specific lines of focus on the development and testing of mindfulness-based and psychological treatments for women. She is a member of the International Academy of Sex Research, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, the Canadian Sex Research Forum, and the Canadian Psychological Association. She has published over 150 articles and book chapters, has given 200 invited presentations, and is frequently contacted by the media as a guest expert on the topic of sexuality. She was a member of the DSM-5 workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders published in May 2013. She is a health expert writer for the Globe and Mail where she writes a monthly column focused on sexual health and well-being.
The mandate of the Executive Director, WHRI will include setting the health research agenda for WHRI in conjunction with senior leadership at BC Women’s. Dr. Brotto will work with an Advisory Council and will collaborate with research leadership at UBC and other health authority research institutes to define and facilitate a women’s health research strategy for BC. She will play a pivotal role in the team effort towards integrating and coordinating the women’s health research effort within BC Women’s, PHSA, UBC and other partner universities. Her responsibilities will include planning, organizing, staffing, directing and managing outcomes of the WHRI and working effectively with government and community partners to enable the integrated research vision.
Dr. Brotto’s office will be located in the WHRI on the 3rd Floor of the Women’s Health Centre at BCW where she will be onsite Wednesdays and Thursdays. She will maintain an office and laboratory at the Diamond Health Care Centre the rest of the week.
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Brotto on her appointment, and in welcoming her to her new role in the Women’s Health Research Institute!
- Awards + Accomplishments
- Women's Health Research
Dr. Paula Gordon and her colleagues are comparing traditional 2D mammography screening combined with tomosynthesis mammography with traditional 2D mammography alone. The purpose of this study is to compare the recall rate of these two methods.
The recall rate is the number of women, out of all women that have a screening mammogram, who are asked to return for additional testing due to an abnormal result. Abnormal results do not mean that a cancer was found, but that additional testing is required. More than 95% of women who do need additional testing will ultimately receive a normal result.
Studies have previously compared tomosynthesis mammography to traditional 2D mammography. Many of these studies showed that tomosynthesis allows for better imaging of the breast, higher breast cancer detection accuracy, and fewer false-positive results than traditional 2D mammography, however the results are not consistent.
This study will be the first of its kind in Canada to address the existing inconsistent results. This study aims to compare the number of women who are recalled for additional testing from traditional 2D mammography to traditional 2D mammography and tomosynthesis.
In total, approximately 3000 women will be recruited to participate in this study. The findings from this study will help determine whether tomosynthesis results in fewer false-positive findings than traditional 2D mammography (the current method of screening for breast cancer in British Columbia).
- Women's Health Research
Dr. Wendy Norman, a BC Women’s Hospital researcher who holds a Chair in Family Planning, is leading innovative research into the contraceptive needs of BC Women. A Women’s Health Survey is currently underway across BC. This door-to-door survey will provide critical information about supporting equitable access to family planning knowledge, services and methods for the average woman.
To determine how to best support women in the most vulnerable situations, BC Women’s needs your help to make sure the survey reaches out to as many women as possible. Your funds can help ensure women across BC have access to the contraceptive information and methods they need. A $50,000 matching gift is being offered by a generous donor to kick start this research.
Please make a donation to support this research today
Please feel free to contact Aimee Nygaard at 604-875-2424 ext 6410 for more information.
- Women's Health Research