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April 17, 2024

WPI receives slice of $2.8M women’s health grants for bipolar treatment development

A brick building with a pointed roof with many windows. Photo | Timothy Doyle Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Two Worcester Polytechnic Institute professors are amongst 10 project awardees receiving $2.8 million in grants from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to support their research advancing women’s health outcomes. 

Christina Bailey-Hytholt, assistant professor of chemical engineering and Diana Alatalo, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, were awarded $50,000 for their development of a treatment for bipolar disorder able to be used while women are pregnant and breastfeeding, according to a Tuesday press release from the Gov. Maura Healey Administration.

Bailey-Hytholt is the principal investigator at WPI’s Bailey-Hytholt Lab, which researches therapeutic delivery vehicles, in vitro model systems, and non-invasive diagnostics, according to the lab’s website.

Alatalo centers her research on engineering solutions for maternal-child health, according to her WPI profile.

The MLSC’s Women’s Health Collaboration Program, which seeks to support institutions working to ameliorate women’s health outcomes, provided $2.6 million in funding for the awards. In addition, MLSC’s First Look Awards granted $250,000 in funding to recipients. The awards are a collaborative program with the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which helps fund early stage exploratory research regarding diseases and conditions affecting women. 

“We’re incredibly proud of the potential of these projects announced today to ensure that Massachusetts remains the global life sciences hub,” Jeanne LeClair, MLSC acting CEO and vice president of economic development and partnerships, said in the press release. “An important pillar of this hub remains our leadership in women’s health. Massachusetts is uniquely positioned to drive collaboration between industry, education, non-profit, and government in this and other key research areas.” 

Women are 50-70% more likely than men to experience adverse drug reactions, and these negative reactions account for more than 80% of drugs being pulled from the market due to safety concerns, according to the Women’s Health Innovation Grants website. 

Funding for these types of grants is part of Healey’s proposed Mass Leads Act, a $3.5-billion initiative to support growth of the life sciences, climatetech, and artificial intelligence industries in the state. This includes a $1-billion reauthorization of the Life Sciences Initiative. 

“Our hospitals and research institutions are key contributors to Massachusetts’ global leadership in health care and thriving sectors such as the life sciences,” Healey said in the release. “The Mass Leads Act aims to accelerate these efforts, particularly in areas like women’s health that have been historically overlooked and inspire breakthroughs for a generation to come.” 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally reported the Worcester Polytechnic Institute award was worth up to $300,000. The article was updated Thursday afternoon to include the WPI awardees received $50,000 in funding.

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