Migraine – a protection or a threat to blood vessels?

Antoinette Maassen van den Brink from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam is the recipient of this year’s BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects in Health Research of the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH). Together with her project partner at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Professor Tobias Kurth, the director of the Institute of Public Health, Maassen van den Brink is investigating to what extent reproductive factors in women affect the course of migraine as well as researching the link between migraine and cardiovascular events. With the award, which comes with a prize of €40,000, the BIH supports medical research projects that take into account gender differences. The award ceremony will be held in Berlin on September 24.

Migraine is a neurological disorder accompanied by severe headaches and other disturbances. Some 12 percent of the population is affected, with women being three to four times more prone than men. Migraine is associated with many other conditions, such as depression, sleep disturbances, and epilepsy, and is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. About a fourth of all people affected have at least one migraine attack per week and are unable to work during this time. The social and financial impact is therefore immense.

Previous studies by Antoinette Maassen van den Brink of Rotterdam and Tobias Kurth of Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin showed that the link between migraine, vascular health, and cardiovascular events is complex. Since many patients experience migraine only during certain periods of their lives, the course of migraine also plays an important role. The scientists suspect that other factors also influence migraine and the vascular system. They now want to investigate this in further research, which in Rotterdam will include functional studies in the lab and at the Charité a reanalysis of epidemiological data from the Women’s Health Study, which since 1993 has examined the health of women employed in the healthcare sector.

“Through these studies we want to find out how the course of migraine is linked to the emergence of cardiovascular diseases and to what extent reproductive factors play a role,” says the award winner Antoinette Maassen van den Brink. “This research will also hopefully identify new preventive strategies to reduce patients’ cardiovascular risk.” Tobias Kurth of the Charité adds: “Our collaboration will provide an important translational bridge between basic research and epidemiological population-based research and thus hopefully help affected women to effectively deal with the disorder.”

About the award winner

Dr. Antoinette Maassen van den Brink is Associate Professor of Pharmacology in the Department of Internal Medicine at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She investigates the neurovascular aspects of migraine, with a special emphasis on the role of female sex hormones in disease development. Her research has a translational focus and involves in vivo experimental animal studies, human tissue models, and clinical trials. She is a board member of the Dutch Headache Society and the Dutch Pharmacology Society, as well as a founding member of the Dutch Society for Gender and Health. In addition, she sits on the board of directors of the European Headache Federation and of the Federation of European Pharmacology Societies. She has received numerous awards and grants for her work, including from the American Headache Society, the International Headache Society, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Dutch Heart Foundation. She is co-editor of the book Gender and Migraine, published by Springer.

About the award

The Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) is awarding the BIH Excellence Award for Sex and Gender Aspects Health Research for the second time in 2019. The award aims to bring more visibility to sex and gender issues in translational research. It recognizes research excellence among scientists working in the field of biomedicine who integrate sex and/or gender aspects into their research. The award focuses on both the research impact of the applicant and their future research collaboration with a partner from the BIH, the Charité, or the Max Delbrück Center (MDC). In bringing the laureate’s expertise to Berlin, BIH aims to connect the award winner with their chosen collaborators in the BIH translational research commons, thus facilitating the development of a joint research project that serves the BIH mission and has a focus on sex and/or gender aspects in research.

The winner will receive a total prize of €40,000, with €10,000 earmarked for research activities at the scientist’s home institution and €30,000 to accelerate the joint research project with the Berlin partner, used preferentially to supervise an early career scientist. For example, the prize money could be used for a scholarship for a medical doctorate.