Welcome the New Co-Chairs
Dr. Sunila Nair is a Program officer in the Integrative Neuroscience Branch of the Division of Neuroscience and Behavior at NIDA. Her research and programmatic interests are directed at elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie craving and relapse to substance use disorders. Her program portfolio broadly encompasses basic and preclinical research projects targeted at understanding molecular, circuitry and behavioral mechanisms and sex differences in relapse to drug seeking behaviors. Dr. Nair received her bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery (MBBS) from the University of Bombay, India, following which she obtained a PhD in neuropharmacology at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to joining the Integrative Neuroscience Branch in the Division of Neurobiology and Behavior at NIDA, Dr. Nair was Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. She directed a research program focused on determining how the functional activity of neurons in the brain, specifically in the limbic, cortical and hypothalamic circuitry is controlled and altered in response to drugs of abuse and non-drug reinforcers. Her research also focused on sex differences in addiction; specifically, on the organizational and activational effects of gonadal hormones, and dimorphism in cell-type specific alterations in neural circuits that drive relapse to drug-seeking behaviors. Dr. Nair’s research program was funded by the NIH, Brain and Behavior Research Institute (NARSAD Young Investigator Award) and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Institute at the University of Washington.
Dr. Keisher Highsmith is a Scientist/Epidemiologist in the U.S. Public Health Service and has been a public health practitioner for approximately 20 years. Dr. Highsmith serves as a Program Official in the Services Research Branch of the NIDA Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research. In this role, she provides administrative oversight of the HEALing Communities Study which is part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Trans-NIH initiative and the Rural Opioid Initiative. She oversees a portfolio that focus on implementation science, policy, access/utilization of services to address OUD and the impact on maternal, women and child health. Dr. Highsmith Co-Chairs the NIDA Women & Sex/Gender Differences Research Group and serves on the NIDA Research Training Committee.
Prior to coming to NIH, Dr. Highsmith was a Deputy Director in the HRSA Bureau of Primary Health Care. Dr. Highsmith also served as the Director of Special Initiatives and Program Planning and Evaluation in the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). She provided scientific leadership and support for the development and implementation of innovative, multidisciplinary programs in maternal, child and women’s health. Dr. Highsmith established The Maternal Health Initiative (MHI) which is a comprehensive national strategy to improve women’s health and ensure the quality and safety of care. She also conceptualized, launched, and led The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health: Improving Maternal Health and Safety which is a national initiative to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality through quality improvement of patient safety in birthing facilities. Dr. Highsmith earned her Doctorate in Public Health from Morgan State University.
What We Do
The mission of the Women and Sex/Gender Differences Research Program is to promote the conduct, translation, and dissemination of research on: 1) sex/gender differences in the pharmacology, neurobiology, behavioral and socioeconomic determinants of substance use disorders (SUD), and responses to drugs of abuse; and 2) interactions of SUD risk factors, SUD and drugs of abuse with changes in female physiology and behavior across the lifespan. A primary part of the mission is to promote the careers of women scientists. The group meets monthly to discuss research and policy updates, recently published papers, workshops and training opportunities. WGRG members also serve on the Trans-NIH Coordinating Committee for Research on Women’s Health (CCRWH) to advance research on sex and gender differences and women’s health.
Papers of Interest:
- Cocaine self-administration induces sex-dependent protein expression in the nucleus accumbens - Communications Biology, July 16, 2021
- The Proceedings of the National Academies of Medicine workshop on Sex Differences in Brain Disorders, Emerging Transcriptomic Evidence: Proceedings of a Workshop (2021) has been released.
- Considering sex as a biological variable will require a global shift in science culture Shansky RM and Murphy AZ; Nature Neuroscience, March 2021
- Sex differences in dopamine release regulation in the striatum. Zachry JE, Nolan SO, Brady LJ, Kelly SJ, Siciliano CA, Calipari ES., Neuropsychopharmacology, Dec 14, 2020
- Sex differences in disorders of the brain and heart-a global crisis of multimorbidity and novel opportunity Goldstein, J.M., Langer, A., Lesser, J.A., JAMA Psychiatry, Published online July 8, 2020
- Sex differences in biophysicall signatures across molecularly defined medial amygdala neuronal subpopulations. Heidi Y. Matos, David Hernandez-Pineda, Claire M. Charpentier, Allison Rusk, Joshua G. Corbin and Kevin S. Jones. eNeuro, July 2, 2020; ENEURO.0035-20.2020. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0035-20.2020
- Sex bias and omission in neuroscience research is influenced by research model and journal, but not reported NIH funding Gabriella M. Mamlouk, David M. Dorris, Lily R. Barrett, John Meitzen Front Neuroendocrinol. Apr 2020; 57: 100835.
Funding Opportunities & Announcements
Selected Funding Announcements in which NIDA participates.
- NOT-GM-21-018 - Administrative Supplements for Research on Women’s Health in the IDeA States
- NOT-OD-21-071 - Administrative Supplements and Urgent Competitive Revisions for NIH Grants to Add or Expand Research Focused on Maternal Health, Structural Racism and Discrimination, and COVID-19
- NOT-OD-20-049 Administrative Supplements for Research on Sex/Gender Influences
- NOT-OD-20-048 Research on the Health of Women of Understudied, Underrepresented and Underreported (U3) Populations
- RFA-OD-19-029 Intersection of Sex and Gender Influences on Health and Disease
- PAR-20-237 Community Interventions to Address the Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic among Health Disparity and Vulnerable Populations (R01- Clinical Trial Optional)
- PAR-20-180 Identifying Innovative Mechanisms or Interventions that Target Multimorbidity and Its Consequences (R01 Clinical Trial Optional)
For a complete list, use the NIH Guide- NIDA Sex Gender Grants Query
Three NIDA-funded projects were recent recipients of IMPROVE administrative supplements.
The NIH Implementing a Maternal health and PRegnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) initiative (NOT-OD-20-104) advances maternal mortality, maternal morbidity and health disparities research to reduce pregnancy-related deaths and complications in the United States. Three NIDA grantees have received awards from this initiative.
- Krista F. Huybrechts, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital,
Postpartum opioid related mortality in Medicaid patients
Drug overdose is increasingly recognized as an important source of maternal mortality; the postpartum period appears to be a time of particular vulnerability. Beyond overdose, opioid use disorders may be associated with an increased risk for other causes of maternal mortality, but data are few. In this study, the team will link data from the nationwide Medicaid Analytic eXtract (MAX) with the National Death Index to examine the frequency, timing, and risk factors for overdose and other opioid use disorder-related postpartum maternal mortality in order to help ensure clinical and policy interventions can be effectively designed to decrease the occurrence of maternal death.
- Constance Guille, MD, Medical University of South Carolina.
Reducing Racial Disparities and Maternal Mortality Associated with Untreated Peripartum Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders.
Maternal mortality in the United States is higher than any other developed country with non-Hispanic black women having the highest rates of maternal deaths. Suicide and drug overdose combined are a leading cause of maternal mortality. In collaboration with community partners, peer-led recovery organizations and peripartum black women the study team will improve upon an existing substance use disorder and mental health screening, treatment and care coordination program necessary to improve the lives of women, their children and families.
- Amy J Elliot, PhD, Avera McKennan
The Cumulative Risk of Substance Exposure and Early Life Adversity on Child Health Development and Outcomes
Poor sleep health in the perinatal period has been found to be associated with several conditions known to increase the risk for maternal health complications and mortality. Additionally, greater risk incidence of poor sleep reports occurs among racial/ethnic minorities. This study will investigate the feasibility of using wearable devices that acquires 2-lead EEG and ECG to monitor sleep during pregnancy and first month after delivery and specifically in an American Indian population at high risk for poor maternal outcome, with the goal of establishing if wearable solutions would provide viable alternatives to sleep lab assessments and more invasive in home monitor solutions.
Training and Career Development Opportunities
- NIDA Training Opportunities
- NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) Career Development and Education
- Educational Materials on Integrating Sex and Gender into Biomedical Research
Resources of Interest
- CCRWH Working group on Understanding Complex Morbidity (contact Holly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- CCRWH Working group on Reproductive Transitions (contact NIHCCRWH NIHCCRWH@od.nih.gov)
- Maternal Mortality Task Force
- CCRWH Covid-19 Working group
Other Web Sites of Interest
- NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health
- NIH Sex and Gender Minority Research Office (SGRMO)
- White House Council on Women and Girls (CWG)
NIDA WGRG Contacts
Any questions or suggestions regarding the Women and Gender Research Group or to contribute to this website please contact Rita J. Valentino (email@example.com) or Holly Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org)