Cambrian’s Dr Daisy Robinton on the basis of sex, ovarian aging and improving clinical trials and education.
Dr Daisy Robinton joined Cambrian as Scientist in Residence to move women’s health forward, building on her PhD in Human Biology and Translational Medicine at Harvard University.
Longevity.Technology: Our interview with Dr Robinton is timely, not only because of the awakening to the importance of sex differences in clinical trials , but the understanding that extending the reproductive life span can have numerous benefits. Cambrian is a company that is going places fast, so we were pleased to catch up with Dr Robinton and find out more about her work.
Statistically women might live longer than men, but they are also in poorer health for longer. Age-related decline in ovarian function leads to adverse health outcomes in women and it’s a double whammy as the science is under-researched. However, there has been an increase in research in this space recently, something Dr Robinton welcomes.
“There has been a growing groundswell of effort and funding dedicated to reproductive longevity, driven in large part by the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equity at the Buck Institute,” affirms Robinton.
“I believe this work is incredibly important in improving equity for women and addressing their specific health concerns. However, I think it’s broader than reproductive longevity. If we are able to support the function of the ovary beyond its decline in midlife, we would be supporting better health outcomes and improving healthspan in women.”
Ovarian function maintains a complex signalling network in the body that links to bone health, heart health, cognitive and immune health. The ovaries are so much more than a reproductive organ, and this is what research is aiming to address.
“The influx of attention, funding, research and development in this space is incredibly exciting,” says Robinton. “And it’s been a long time coming! It is unacceptable that we have left so many questions about women’s health unanswered for so long. A woman’s reproductive health is intimately tied to her overall well-being.
“Interestingly, women who go through menopause later tend to live longer, as do their brothers; understanding the aging of the ovaries will shed light onto aging overall and potential strategies to slow or prevent aging and age-related disease in women – not to mention that improving women’s options as it relates to fertility will help establish equality between the sexes.”
As researchers wake up the importance of sex differences in clinical trials and research, we were keen to get Dr Robinton’s take on progress in this area.
“There’s been a long history of neglect and bias against females in biomedical research, and in clinical trial design, and in the way that we teach medicine and perform healthcare in this country, even how we diagnose patients,” says Robinton. “There’s a growing groundswell around the fact that women have not been included in how we understand, diagnose and treat disease, or in how we understand basic principles of biology.”
A greater range of models is needed to understand wellness or disease with any granularity, she explains.
“It is not good enough to maintain the status quo – using male models – and pretend that we can apply those findings across a diverse population,” says Robinton. “This is a problem beyond sex and gender, but also people from different ethnic backgrounds.
“It is very likely that men and women will require some different strategies when it comes to preventing aging. For one, women have ovaries, and this is one of the first organs to decline in function with age.”
Ovaries show signs of aging decades before other tissues and there is evidence suggesting that once a woman enters menopause the rest of her body experiences accelerated aging.
“We know that post-menopausal women are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, immune dysfunction, cognitive decline… and these risks increase dramatically once the ovaries stop functioning,” explains Robinton. “Men do not have this problem, and so inherently there are fundamental differences in how we can and need to tackle aging in men vs women.”
What steps would Dr Robinton take to improve communication about longevity?
“Like all fields of science, we need to lead with rigorous data and facts that are presented in an approachable and compelling way,” she says. “The science behind aging and longevity is very complex, as we are complex organisms and there is so much that we do not know.
“Encouraging, training and incentivizing scientists to engage more broadly with the public about there work would be a good step towards improving communication about longevity, and reducing the prevalence of false or misleading information which can negatively impact the whole field.”
This week, we launched our report into ovarian aging in which we will argue that there needs to be a radical rethink of women’s reproductive health, not only to extend fertility and delay the menopause, but to understand the role that the aging of ovaries – the pacemaker of aging in women – has on women’s life expectancy.