Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) announced the BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects in Health Research for the first time in 2017. The award aims to bring more visibility to sex and gender issues in translational research. It recognizes research excellence among renowned scientists working in the field of basic and/or clinical biomedical research with a focus on sex and gender aspects.
In early December, a jury of international experts selected two winners from the pool of internationally renowned applicants who stood out with their different research approaches. Berlin Institute of Health awards the 2017 BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects in Health Research to Louise Pilote (McGill University and from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in Montreal, Canada) and Rhonda Voskuhl (University of California, USA).
The research conducted by neurologist Rhonda Voskuhl stands out through its strong translational focus or, in other words, its focus on transferring basic and clinical research into medical practice. Voskuhl investigates biological sex differences in chronic degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. She researches molecular mechanisms in preclinical studies and uses the findings to develop gender-specific biomarkers for new approaches to treatment.
Rhonda Voskuhl attended Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, on full basketball and academic scholarships. She received her M.D. from Vanderbilt University and completed a neurology residency at the University of Texas Southwestern where she twice received the Texas Neurological Society Research Award. She did a five-year fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) focusing on multiple sclerosis and its animal model, where she received a Public Health Citation for Excellence in Research. Dr. Voskuhl joined UCLA as Assistant Professor of Neurology in 1995, was promoted to Associated Professor in 2000 and Professor in 2004, and has been the Director of the UCLA MS Program for over 20 years. She received the Jack H. Skirball Endowed Chair in Multiple Sclerosis Research in 2006.
Dr. Voskuhl sees MS patients in her clinic, while her laboratory is focused on understanding the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS) through use of mouse models. She employs a “Bedside to Bench to Bedside” approach where research is based on clinical observations, molecular mechanisms are revealed, and lead findings are translated into novel clinical trials. A major clinical observation of focus is sex differences in disease. Dr. Voskuhl is a pioneer in sex differences research, examining effects of sex hormones and sex chromosomes in autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases. This has included being the Principle Investigator on four clinical trials in MS, two of which were multicenter trials at several sites across the United States.
Another clinical area of interest is the heterogeneity of disabilities in MS. This entails examining cell-specific and region-specific gene expression in the brain to discover disability-specific neuroprotective treatments as well as developing disability-specific biomarkers for use in clinical trials of novel treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. The Berlin Institute of Health Award in 2017 aligns with Dr. Voskuhl’s vision of developing neuroprotective treatments tailored for each disability in each sex.