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National study on women's health largest ever (1/6/97)

Now in its second year, the San Antonio portion of the national Women's Health Initiative (WHI) still needs 1,500 volunteers from South Texas.

The 12-year nationwide study encompassing l50,000 women is the first of its kind and the largest ever undertaken devoted exclusively to women's health issues.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and conducted by researchers from the obstetrics and gynecology department at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), the WHI study will determine how hormones affect women with heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis; whether or not hormones affect memory loss; and how calcium and vitamin D affect women's diet. Approximately 48,000 women across the country are taking part in the dietary program, designed to determine how a low-fat diet affects women's risk for breast and colon cancers and heart disease.

Rose Valdez Jackson exhibits the energy of a racehorse as UTHSC's director of recruitment. Mrs. Jackson also gives orientation to participants just entering the program. Although her audience comes from varied backgrounds and economic levels, the women have one common interest - better health care. Many advances have been made during the past decade in research and funding for diseases in women such as breast, ovarian and uterine cancers.

The UTHSC group is one of more than 40 centers nationwide involved in the study. Their goal is to recruit 3,000 post-menopausal women, ages 50-79, from the south Texas area. Although the local WHI database has 3,000 names, only about half qualify for the study; another l,500 are needed.

According to the November issue of *The Scientist*, the early 1990s saw an increase in women's health research. Former NIH director Bernadine Healy's interest may have been the impetus needed to give this field its current momentum. For years before Healy's term, few women were included in clinical studies of heart disease even though evidence showed that estrogen may protect against coronary artery disease and heart attacks. Healy changed this during her term as director. She has since left NIH but funding for women's research has continued to increase.

Four physicians are involved in the current UTHSC study. Robert Schenken, MD, professor in ob/gyn, is director and principal investigator (PI) and an authority on osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer; Robert Brzyski, MD, clinical assistant professor and co-PI, is researching the affects of hormones on Alzheimer's and memory; Jose F. Trabal, MD, clinical associate professor, is interested in the effect of hormones on osteoporosis; and Karen Diaz, MD, clinical assistant professor, is determining how calcium and Vitamin D affect diet.

Investigators in ob/gyn recently concluded a smaller study to determine whether replacement hormones increased bone mass in older women. Results of this study showed that participants who took hormones gained significant amounts of bone mass and those on estrogen, with or without progesterone, experienced a marked increase in spinal bone mineral density (BMD).

Women who join the WHI research may enter one or more of four different groups in the study: dietary, hormone replacement therapy, calcium and vitamin D, and observational. WHI provides participants free yearly mammograms, blood tests, pap smears and electrocardiograms. The program, which involves no experimental drugs, will last up to 12 years.

Those who wish to join the WHI study but don't drive are given free transportation by the Saturn Transportation Assistance Team (STAT), established by Rose Valdez Jackson with Rick Cavendar, manager of Saturn of San Antonio. Mr. Cavendar is currently in the process of expanding the free transportation program nationwide. Members of this prominent San Antonio family are also planning a grand reception for WHI participants to be held during February, 1997. Entertainment will be provided by the Rick Cavendar Band.

Glenn Sheirer, a General Motors retiree, is one of the volunteer drivers from San Antonio. Using his own Saturn, Glenn picks up volunteers at their door and takes them to and from their appointments at UTHSCSA. "This is a fun community service and I enjoy it," smiled Mr. Sheirer. "The ladies are such fine people."

Participants in the WHI study are remarkably healthy, according to the research nurses assisting in the program. "Arthritis is definitely the most common ailment we see," said Linda Hubbard, WHI research nurse and graduate of UTHSC's nursing school. "Most women are surprisingly healthy, though. I think the women who come in are here to try to do something to help others, especially their own families."

Sara Olivarri, another UTHSC nursing school graduate who is now a WHI research nurse, said she has learned to take better care of herself after interviewing participants. "Hypertension is a common ailment," she added, "and some women, but not many, have heart disease."

Volunteers confirm Hubbard's statement. Cheryl Landman, who drives in from Kerrville, joined " because I hope to be able to contribute to women's research."

Patricia Woo, San Antonio, states, "I took part in an earlier program and wanted to also join the WHI study. I have a daughter; perhaps this research will help her and other young women."

Fern Lancaster, San Antonio, joined because she has four daughters. "This is a great opportunity to help my family," she said.

For additional information or to join Women's Health Initiative, call (210) 567-1852 or FAX (210) 567-1863.

Contact: Jan Elkins (210) 567-2570