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Westfield State biology professor awarded life sciences grant for women’s health research

Westfield State University Biology Professor Kristen A. Porter, Ph.D., has been awarded a $750,000 grant through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Women’s Health Program to research predictive modeling to create “bioprofiles” for use in personalized medicine in women’s health.

Dr. Porter’s is one of five capital projects in the MLSC Women’s Health Program to receive part of the $8.3 million in funding this year. The funding supports innovative research and cross-sector collaboration between non-profits and Massachusetts-based life science companies to advance research in women’s health and foster new talent for the Massachusetts biotechnology super cluster.

The MLSC Women’s Health Program supports collaborative projects to improve the discovery, technical innovation, and/or analysis of datasets to answer pressing life science-related questions around women’s health.

Massachusetts Secretary for Administration and Finance Michael J. Heffernan, who serves as co-chair of the MLSC Board of Directors, said: “The Baker-Polito Administration is proud to support these novel efforts encouraging collaboration and innovation to advance human health and improving patient outcomes. These grants further our important, shared mission to incentivize transformative projects developing solutions in areas of need, while strengthening the thriving life sciences industry here in Massachusetts.”

The MLSC funding will help foster collaboration between Westfield State researchers and Cambridge, Mass.-based IOMICS Intelligent Analytics to address an understudied area in women’s health. Trauma to the female reproductive tract—whether it be from endometriosis, uterine surgery, childbirth, or assault—requires healing of wounded tissue. Considering that all women are different and heal at different rates, they will also vary in their response to therapeutics or surgical interventions, making it difficult for physicians to create the most effective treatment plan, according to Dr. Porter.

“The goal of our work is to use cutting-edge microscopic imaging and computational modeling to determine if there are enough similarities between groups of women, that they can be placed into categories we call ‘bioprofiles,’” she said. “These bioprofiles can be used to determine the prognosis and success of various treatments for women within that bioprofile.

“The knowledge gained can be applied toward the development of more effective and personalized treatment programs, which reduce recovery times and improve patient outcomes,” added Dr. Porter.

Westfield State’s project includes the hiring of a postdoctoral biomedical researcher through IOMICS Intelligent Analytics. This position will include part-time biomedical research, including advanced biomedical imaging, at Westfield State University. IOMICS will provide training in the application of advanced machine learning and analytics. Those interested should contact Dr. Porter at kporter@westfield.ma.edu.

The following western Massachusetts organizations will support Westfield State’s research: Bay State Health Systems of Springfield, Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts Genomics Core in Amherst.

According to the MLSC, there has been a lack of development in novel solutions to treat conditions that solely or disproportionately affect women or have a different presentation between genders. This affects not only patients but also employers and the health care system. The consequences are profound, according to the MLSC, with women more likely to have adverse drug reactions compared to men, and the lack of effective therapies results in reduced quality of life.

“These investments represent the vital role the Life Sciences Center plays in catalyzing new partnerships and deepening cross-sector collaboration with a goal of taking on pressing life sciences challenges,” said Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as co-chair of the MLSC Board of Directors. “Massachusetts is uniquely positioned to provide support of new ideas and innovative strategies to improve health conditions, diagnoses, and treatments, and better understanding their impact across various health care populations.”

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