2018 Simon Dack Keynote to Focus on CV Disease in Women
One of the first women to attend Harvard Medical School, Nanette Kass Wenger, MD, MACC, has been a pioneer in cardiovascular medicine for her entire career. As a young woman entering medical school in the early 1950s, it never occurred to Wenger that she might not achieve her dreams because of her sex. “I think part of it was that no one ever told me it was impossible. My parents’ attitude was that if you want to do it, you can succeed,” says Wenger. She attributes her success to her accomplishments, including her stellar college record. “Even though mine was the sixth class of women at Harvard Medical School, I did not feel discrimination. Although I think we were still viewed as being different and unusual,” she adds.
A former trainee in cardiology of Simon Dack, MD, MACC, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, Wenger has “enormous appreciation” for being selected to give the 2018 Simon Dack Keynote this year. “It’s a great honor and I am truly humbled by it,” she says.
After her internal medicine residency and cardiology fellowship at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Wenger had additional cardiology training at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. She accepted a faculty position at Emory in 1959, and is currently emeritus professor of medicine (cardiology) at Emory. Wenger is also a consultant at Emory Heart and Vascular Center and founding consultant at Emory Women’s Heart Center.
Early on, Wenger became passionate about cardiovascular disease in women. As part of her keynote, Wenger says she will “review the journey of women and heart disease to identify some of the milestones that advanced our knowledge and how we progressed from the early years to where we are now.”
Wenger recalls the early years when she saw women with heart disease in her clinic and recognized there was no evidence base for their diagnosis and treatments. “The concern with women was during their reproductive years and after they had children; they essentially disappeared from the medical scene. Research in women was about what I have termed ‘bikini medicine,’ meaning the areas covered by the bikini bathing suit: the breasts and reproductive system. It was assumed arbitrarily that other organ systems did not differ between women and middle-aged white men.”
"I think part of it was that no one ever told me it was impossible. My parents’ attitude was that if you want to do it, you can succeed." — Nanette Kass Wenger, MD, MACC
Wenger became an outspoken advocate for studying heart disease in women, repeatedly providing comments to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute as well as the ACC and American Heart Association regarding the need for data in women in order to provide quality care for them. Over the years, this message began to resonate as research revealed major sex differences in prevalence, diagnosis, prevention, management and outcomes in women. “Now we talk about gender-specific medicine or personalized medicine. That was not known years ago. We now realize that to provide optimal care for women it has to be based on research studies conducted in women or basic science data using female cells, tissues or animals,” she says.
Although the situation has improved, according to Wenger “we’re not there yet.” In 2015, the U.S. Congress passed the Research for All legislation, which mandates for appropriate representation of women, elderly and minorities in federally-funded studies, and requires that research results be disaggregated by these specific variables, even in basic animal research. “I hope my asking the questions was a major contributor to bringing this into the mainstream,” Wenger says.
More recently, Wenger has tried to do the same with heart disease in the burgeoning elderly population of people 85 and older. “They’ve outlived their scientific database,” she says. Wenger is advocating for studies that specifically relate both to their care and priorities for care, which may differ from the priorities of young patients. “One of my messages is that we must investigate, educate to apply the data, and then advocate and as necessary legislate,” she says.
The 2018 Simon Dack Keynote will take place today during the Opening Showcase Session from 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. in the Main Tent, Hall C.
Keywords: ACC Publications, ACC Scientific Session Newspaper, ACC Annual Scientific Session
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