Men vs women: gender specificities affect also health, with higher incidence of some diseases and different responses to therapies. This is what by the Foundation for Women’s Wellness (FWW), an American non-for-profit organization is involved with. It has supported and spread gender scientific research for 20 years, granted scholarships to researchers that stood out for the quality of their studies, focused on the defeat of typical women’s pathologies and on the improvement of women’s health in their different ages: from the role of hormones during pregnancy and menopause, to osteoporosis and breast cancer.
The 2016 FWW Foundation Women’s Health Award “Iris Klarman” was given to Dr. Riccardo Gottardi, member of the scientific team of Ri.MED Foundation for five years, for his innovative study in the field of orthopedic regenerative medicine. The study, funded by Ri.MED and conducted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, examines the gender differences in osteoarthritis and joint damage, with specific focus on the interaction between sexual hormones and cartilage in menopause women, a category with a very high incidence of the disease.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by a progressive erosion of the joint cartilage, the tissue covering the bone extremities of the joints. After menopause, women suffer a double risk of developing this particular degenerative disease compared to men, and several studies indicate that the high incidence is due to decreased hormone levels after menopause. One of the main obstacles for understanding the mechanisms of osteoarthritis is that bone and cartilage interact and cannot be analyzed separately. However, up to date, hormone replacement therapies focus only on improving the bone health and do not intervene on the cartilage.
Dr. Gottardi has a different viewpoint: “My hypothesis is that the results obtained with the current therapies depend on the fact that estrogen and progesterone concentrations vary over time during the menstrual cycle, which is cyclically repeated every 28 days, whereas with hormone replacement therapies estrogen (or estrogen and progesterone) is continuously administrated without any variations over time. My goal is to identify the combinations of hormone concentrations that are effective for protecting the cartilage.
In order to do that, Dr. Gottardi’s team developed an in vitro model – already patented – to generate engineered cartilage. “The in vitro model that I created closely replicates the conditions observed in vivo in human beings, enables growing human osteochondral tissues for long time in a controlled environment, and obviates the need to do research on animals that, on the other hand, have a very different hormone cycle compared to humans.” This research will provide new guidelines for the use of hormone replacement therapies that do not harm the cartilage, and identify the hormone mechanisms that affect osteoarthritis. Once these mechanisms are identified, they could be used as new therapeutic targets.
Mr. Padova, director general of Ri.MED Foundation, is very satisfied: “I am very proud of our researchers’ success: this new international award confirms that Ri.MED can work as an innovation channel on research programs strongly oriented to the clinical practice. A research that promises to dramatically improve the quality of life of patients affected with pathologies for which no remedies have been found until today.”