Zurich, September 21, 2020 – The International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health 2020, the signature event of the Women’s Brain Project, was a big success on the path of sex and gender-oriented precision medicine and another step toward the realization of the first Institute of Sex and Gender Precision Medicine in Switzerland.
More than 200 people around the world registered for the Forum held virtually on Sept. 19-20, gathering scientists, academics, patients, caregivers, and policymakers, including Signe Ratso, European Commission Deputy Director General for Research and Innovation, and Dr. Kaveeta Vasisht, Associate Commissioner for Women’s Health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In two days, speakers discussed young suicide, maternal mental health, and sex and gender differences in dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, in addition to lifestyle interventions, new technologies for brain and mental health and the causes of migraine (For a full program and list of speakers, click here).
During the Forum, WBP announced that it will be launching the Swiss edition of the global “Be Brain Powerful®” campaign, with the support of various partners and sponsors.
“I am sure that gender-specific medicine will become ever more important in the future. If women receive more targeted and efficient medical treatment, fewer resources will be wasted and costs will be reduced. This is important to all of us,” said Dr. Engelberger, Health Councillor of the City of Basel, who added impressive statistics around mental health in Switzerland alone:
- Nearly 17% of the Swiss population suffer from one or more mental disorders.
- Of the 1.2 million Swiss people who suffer from migraines, some 800,000 of them are women.
- More than 150’000 persons are currently living with dementia in Switzerland, and 30’000 develop it every year – that’s a new sufferer every 18 minutes. About two-thirds of the people affected are women.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and today, September 21st, marks World Alzheimer’s Day 2020.
The impact on COVID-19 on Brain and Mental Health
The WBP Forum highlighted sex and gender differences in healthcare, and the importance of brain and mental health as the world struggled with lockdowns and quarantines.
“While our brains are wired to connect and belong, the need to be disconnected and often in isolation due to the pandemic is taking a significant toll in terms of sustained stress, which causes inflammation, a diminished immune response, and a greater susceptibility to other diseases,” stated Professor Eliot Sorel, Chair, Access to Care Committee, American Psychiatric Association, during his keynote.
“This may lead to an exacerbation of pre-existing mental disorders and new incidences of depression and anxiety, above all in the female population as they play a major caregiving role,” he added.
Combining Perspectives for Greater Insights
The first panel focusing on young suicide, one of the leading causes of death in people aged 10 to 24, included two suicide survivors as well as a parent of a young woman why died by suicide. This very powerful panel discussion offered insights both from a scientific as well as patient/caregiver perspective about young suicide from a sex and gender lens.
The panel discussion about maternal mental health touched upon various topics including management of psychiatric illness during pregnancy, traumatic birth, the role of the birth partner, post-partum depression, and much more highlighting the need for more research, awareness and action in this field.
“The majority of women suffering from post-partum depression are not identified, diagnosed or treated. That has to change” said Prof. Jennifer Payne, Director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, USA.
“Migraine should be recognized as disease”
Four policy calls for action came out from the panel on migraine.
- Adequate resources must be made available for high-quality migraine treatment
- the training of specialists at the primary care level is of utmost importance,
- public awareness and work-related outcomes for people with migraines must be improved, and
- the training of workers and policy recommendations for employers must be promoted.
“It’s an uphill battle, but it is through dialogue and partnerships such as the one Lilly has with WBP that progress will be made for patients, and that migraine can be recognized as the real neurological disease that it is, in workplaces and doctors’ offices, and beyond,” explained Laura Campo, International Corporate Affairs at Eli Lilly and Company.
The role of technology
Almost if not every panel included references to developing technologies and their potential positive impact on brain and mental health across the board. From apps that caregivers of young people who attempted or died from suicide to opportunities to detect post-partum depression or dementia more efficiently, it was clear that the way forward is to build on artificial intelligence (AI)-powered solutions.
During the last panel, focusing on novel technologies, several approaches were proposed to leverage technology towards precision medicine for brain and mental health. One example is that “With AI and multimodal signals, we could detect post-partum depression faster than through self-reported questionnaires, and provide adequate support,” said Dr. Sonali Quantius, Founder of HAPLOMIND.
“Switzerland is the pharma and biomedical research hub, so researchers need to be aware of WBP’s work and the importance of sex and gender differences in brain and mental health,” said Veronica De Vore, Head of the English Department at SwissInfo, Forum media partner. “There is a lot happening around precision medicine, so our hope is that our coverage can help strengthen the dialogue around those advancements.”
The organisation of this Forum would not be possible without the trust and support of our sponsors and partners. The International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health 2020 was sponsored by: AC Immune, B-Now, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Lilly. For a full list of sponsors and partners, visit https://www.forum-wbp.com/.
About the Women Brain’s Project
The Women’s Brain Project (WBP) is an international non-profit organization based in Switzerland. Composed largely of scientists, WBP advocates for and conducts research on sex and gender sensitive precision medicine, from basic science to novel technologies. The organization aims to get a better understanding how men and women’s brains are similar and different, and to stimulate a global social and political discussion on gender and sex determinants of brain and mental health as a gateway to precision medicine. This goes hand in hand with breaking the stigma around brain and mental health and raising awareness around these topics. The WBP team also aims to contribute to the fulfilment of Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and 5 (Gender Equality), among others.
The WBP team constantly delivers peer-reviewed scientific papers, organizing and taking part in scientific and policy events, and offering workshops on mental health to a non-scientific public. Its flagship event is the International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health, which takes place every year in Switzerland.
To find out more, visit http://www.womensbrainproject.com/
Kontx PR Agency: Bettina Gebhardt, bettina.gebhardt[at]kontx.ch