An internationally recognized leader in women’s health, Leslee Shaw, PhD, was named Director of the Blavatnik Family Women's Health Research Institute (BFWHRI) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in May 2021, succeeding its founding director, Elizabeth A. Howell, MD, MPP.
“I am honored to take on this new challenge and opportunity,” Dr. Shaw says. “The work of this respected Institute is closely aligned with my own lifetime goal—equity for women in health care.”
When Dr. Howell founded the Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute in 2017, she aimed to create an institution devoted to addressing disparities in women’s health, and aimed to train future leaders in women’s health care. The Institute developed and grew, now with more than 50 faculty members.
Dr. Howell in 2021 became Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Institute recruited Dr. Shaw, a researcher with an equally strong commitment to women’s health, to lead the next chapter for the BFWHRI.
“We have to put an end to health care inequities. We have to give all people a chance for a healthy life.”
- Leslee Shaw, MD
Dr. Shaw earned her doctoral degree at Saint Louis University in Missouri and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine. She served on the Duke University faculty for several years before being recruited to Emory University in Atlanta. There, Dr. Shaw directed the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute and was the R. Bruce Logue Professor of Medicine at Emory University.
While earning her doctorate, Dr. Shaw began researching sex differences in cardiovascular disease. She was shocked to see how poorly women were treated as compared to men and how often their complaints were dismissed. Dr. Shaw published her first paper on the subject in the early 1990s, setting her on course to become a leading researcher in cardiovascular health outcomes, work she pursued at Duke and Emory universities and Weill Cornell Medicine.
But she had broader ambitions—developing what she calls a "concept of women’s health from birth to death." Mount Sinai's BFWHRI seemed the perfect place to make a positive impact on what she calls the "intricately intertwined" lives of women. As an example, Dr. Shaw points to polycystic ovary syndrome, a fertility issue strongly linked to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Collaborating across disciplines, the Institute can better serve women who seek treatment by connecting them with obstetricians/gynecologists, cardiologists, and endocrinologists, while also empowering them to take charge of their health through diet and exercise.
Dr. Shaw plans to strengthen connections rooted in obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science between BFWHRI and Mount Sinai's other centers of excellence, such as the Dubin Breast Center of The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai and Mount Sinai Heart, among others. Her ultimate objective is to synthesize all aspects of women’s health care, linking maternal and fetal medicine to, potentially, pediatrics, endocrinology, oncology, cardiovascular disease, and geriatrics.
One of Dr. Shaw’s first priorities is to establish BFWHRI as a hub for training, leading health care workers to a more comprehensive understanding of how their specialties fit into the full trajectory of a woman's life. For example, a cardiovascular trainee who gains experience with maternal and fetal medicine experts will become much more astute in caring for women.
Dr. Shaw also envisions cultivating a robust research enterprise, fostering cultural change that breaks down silos at Mount Sinai, and incorporating lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic about health disparities. "We have to put an end to health care inequities,” she emphasizes. "We have to give all people a chance for a healthy life."
At Icahn Mount Sinai, Dr. Shaw will hold a triple primary appointment in Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Medicine (Cardiology), and Population Health Science and Policy. Through this arrangement, Dr. Shaw will be able to expand upon the Institute’s goals for interdisciplinary collaboration in women’s health.
Teresa Janevic, PhD, MPH, was appointed Associate Director of the Institute. Dr. Janevic earned a MPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at University of California, Berkeley. She later received a doctorate in Epidemiology from Columbia University, and then was a Jackson Institute of Foreign Affairs Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Yale University.
Dr. Janevic has been an integral part of the Institute since its beginning, leading research focused on the social determinants of maternal and infant health, including the impact of policy on immigrant women’s health, structural racism and neighborhood context in maternal and infant health, and racial-ethnic inequities in postpartum cardiometabolic health.
“At the Institute, we are looking forward to the collaborations, progress, and scientific discovery that will be made with the outstanding physicians and scientists of Mount Sinai,” Dr. Shaw says.