It’s a girl thing: Aurora women’s health researcher focuses on heart health, diabetes


AURORA | When Judy Regensteiner was in medical school years ago, she began noticing discrepancies in the amount of medical research devoted to men’s health issues, and the amount devoted to women’s health.

Dr. Judith Regensteiner is the director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. One portion of Regensteiner’s research explores why women with diabetes have even poorer cardiovascular outcomes than men with diabetes. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

In 2002, she and two colleagues decided to take the problem into their own hands and founded the Center for Women’s Health Research at the University of Colorado, in an effort to bridge the gap.

Regensteiner said it was an important step in her profession.

“It gave me that excitement,” said Regensteiner, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder and joined the faculty at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine in 1986.

“It was new and exciting, bigger than just about me. I wanted to (create) something that would be a big help to people.”

Studying women’s health was an important undertaking for Regensteiner, since she said women were underrepresented in studies in many key areas until about two decades ago.

“We now know that men’s and women’s responses to disease and their treatments often differ,” she said. “Those differences need to be studied for the health and longevity of women.”

The organization, which the school officially recognized in 2004, has made significant strides in women’s medical research, specifically in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Regensteiner and her colleagues initially chose those two research topics to focus on because they are the biggest contributing factors in deaths for American women.

About 2 million postmenopausal women across the nation suffer from heart failure, and heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., but only 24 percent of participants in all heart-related studies are women, according to the center’s website.

The research done by Regensteiner and her team aims to answer fundamental questions regarding heart disease in women, she said: Why do men and women have different symptoms of heart disease, and what does that mean?

“It’s all about how to help women and give the best advice to women,” she said.

Eventually, as the 8-year-old organization grows and gets more funding, the center will conduct research on a host of other medical issues, Regensteiner said.

But for now, the center’s mission is to educate the next generation of people who will be researchers in women’s health, and educate the public and health care providers about the research they’ve conducted.

Raising funds for research has been challenging, but the center has been supported financially over the past five years by the National Institutes of Health. The organization has also received support from the community. Regensteiner had the foresight to create the Community Advisory Board, which is composed of business people who mentor Regensteiner and her team. For example, when she first launched the center, a businesswoman helped Regensteiner develop a business plan and write bylaws.

“I would have never known how to do those things,” she said.

The Center for Women’s Health Research is hosting its eighth annual community luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where guest speaker and restaurateur Alice Waters will be talking about nutrition. About 700 people are expected to attend, Regensteiner said.

Waters is the owner of the California-based Chez Panisse, a restaurant well known for its organic and locally-grown ingredients.

Regensteiner said it’s important for women to learn about nutrition, since women tend to be the cooks for their families and nutrition in a home is often determined by the foods chosen by the mother.

“The effects on the family are very important,” she said. “If the mother makes healthy food choices, the children will benefit. And if not, health problems such as obesity can arise.”

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]