The Women’s Health Network of Excellence is a multi-Faculty network of staff and students interested in women’s health and sex- and gender-based health equity. The scope of the network is broad, encompassing conditions and health states that exclusively affect females during different life stages, including pregnancy, gynaecological cancers, endometriosis and menopause, as well as diseases for which women are disproportionately or differentially affected, or have been under-studied, compared to men.

Note: In line with Imperial College’s equality, diversity and inclusion policy, and our own values, the Women’s Health Network is committed to creating, maintaining and consistently improving an inclusive environment and opportunities for all. In using the term “women”, we include all women and females, including those whose gender does and does not align with their sex at birth and those who are intersex. In some cases, the topics covered in the Network will also be of relevance to transgender men who have retained their reproductive capacity and gender-diverse people. 

Activity pillars

Our work revolves around five interconnected activity pillars:

  1. Research and Collaboration – Bring together Imperial College staff, students and external partners interested in women’s health-related issues through regular newsletters, events and an online community platform, with the aim to facilitate ideas sharing  and new collaborations.

  2. Community Engagement and Involvement – Engage with women in the community to inform our work, disseminate research findings, and raise awareness about various women’s health issues.

  3. Education and Capacity-Building – Build capacity in women’s health and gender equity research through various mechanisms. These include cross-departmental co-supervision of student projects, guest lectures, student-focused symposia, and the development of a short course in women’s health and new scientific approaches to sex and gender.

  4. Entrepreneurship and Innovation – Promote and support entrepreneurial activity in women’s health/FemTech, through hackathons and corporate speed dating events.

  5. Policy and Advocacy – Showcase the breadth of research being done in women’s health at Imperial College and raise awareness about the female health gap, through presentations, seminars, policy briefs, and engagement with policymakers and stakeholders.

Our purpose

The overarching goal of the Women’s Health Network is to promote inter-disciplinary research and innovation in women’s health and sex- and gender-based health equity. Our purpose is:

  1. To bring together Imperial staff, students and external partners, to drive inter-disciplinary research in women’s health aimed at improving health outcomes and achieving health equity for women and girls in the UK and globally.

  2. To ensure that women’s voices are at the centre of what we do and work closely with community partners to identify priority areas for research.

  3. To improve understanding of women’s health and well-being across the life course and develop innovative solutions to support health, well-being, safety and productivity in women and girls.

  4. To broaden Imperial’s institutional engagement with sex- and gender-based health equity, recognising that many of the local, national, and global leading causes of death and disability in women are non-communicable diseases and injuries that affect all genders.

  5. To develop talent in women’s health research, policy and practice through teaching and training, as well as sharing knowledge with, and supporting new ideas of, students and early career researchers.


Women have unique health needs across their lives, and most diseases, conditions and global health crises affect women and men differently. Yet, much of our understanding of health and disease is derived from research primarily involving male cells, male animals, and men. Additionally, health issues that exclusively or disproportionately affect females are more frequently and more severely underfunded compared to male-dominant conditions. This has resulted in a gender health gap that permeates all aspects of women’s health, from childhood through to older age.

The Women’s Health Network aims to address these gaps by serving as a collaborative platform for new research, innovation and advocacy initiatives that transcend disciplinary boundaries and consider the full breadth of health issues affecting women and girls.

For further insight into the status of women’s health in the UK, read this Imperial Story, and see below for some stark statistics.

Facts and figures

Under-representation of females and women in health and biomedical research

  • In animal research, 5.8 times more males than females are studied, in part due to the erroneous assumption that females are intrinsically more variable.
  • Women comprise only 22% of Phase I clinical trial participants and are consistently under-represented in later stage trials relative to their distribution in disease populations. 
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women are systematically excluded from clinical trials, leading to gaps in understanding how treatments affect these two populations.
  • Less than 0.5% of clinical trials published between 2018 and 2022 reported including transgender, non-binary and other gender diverse people. 

Sex and gender differences in health and disease

  • Women are diagnosed later than men for over 750 diseases, even after accounting for differences in the age of disease onset.
  • Women face nearly twice the risk of experiencing adverse drug reactions compared to men.
  • Women are frequently undertreated across various conditions, including cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death and illness in women worldwide. 
  • Despite living longer on average, women spend a greater proportion of their lives in poor health, compared to men.
  • In dilated cardiomyopathy, women display a milder phenotype but are at twice the risk of complications compared to men, indicating that current sex-neutral diagnostic and treatment criteria are failing to identify ‘high-risk’ women.
  • In solid organ transplantation, women are more likely to be living donors and less likely to receive a transplant compared to men.

Interconnectedness of female-specific and non-gender-specific health

  • Studies show that numerous female reproductive factors (e.g. age at first childbirth, number of live births, age at menarche and age at menopause) are associated with risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Endometriosis has been found to be genetically associated with other types of pain seemingly unrelated to the condition, including migraine and back pain, as well as other inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and osteoarthritis.
  • Between 2019-21, COVID-19, cardiovascular disorders, blood clots and mental health conditions collectively accounted for more than half of all maternal deaths in the UK.
  • Pregnancy-related conditions, including hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and gestational diabetes, increase the risk of future cardiometabolic disorders.
  • Maternal exposure to extreme heat has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of pre- and early term birth, low birth weight, still birth and harmful newborn stress.
  • While sex hormones in the form of contraception and postmenopausal hormone therapy have been implicated in the development and progression of chronic kidney disease, little is known about the effects of gender-affirming hormone therapy or gonadectomy on kidney function in transgender people.

Critical knowledge gaps in female-specific health 

  • In the UK, endometriosis affects ~10% of reproductive-age women but receives less than 0.1% of funding from medical research funders.
  • There has been five times more research into erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than into premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women.
  • In the past 30 years, only 2 drugs have been developed specifically to treat pregnancy-related conditions.

Intersectional inequalities amongst women and girls

  • In the UK, women from Black and Asian ethnic backgrounds face a 4- and 2-fold higher maternal mortality rate, respectively, compared to White women. Women living in the most deprived areas have the highest maternal mortality rates.
  • Globally, cervical cancer disproportionately affects women from low-resource settings due to limited access to preventive measures such as HPV vaccination and cervical screening programs.

Who is the Network for?

The Women’s Health Network is for anyone with an interest or ongoing work in women’s health and/or sex- and gender-based health equity. A key goal of the Network is to broaden how we think about women’s health and to recognise the interconnectedness of female-specific health and non-sex-specific conditions. We encourage people from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to please get in touch.

The network is open to all Imperial staff and students as well as external partners.

Messages from Imperial’s leadership


Professor Mary Ryan
Vice-Provost for Research and Enterprise, Imperial College London

“I am pleased to see the formal announcement of our Network of Excellence, further enhancing what was already a dynamic and active cross-Imperial group focussing on women’s health. I look forward to seeing the collaborations and new initiatives that result from this outstanding opportunity to strengthen and foster cross-Faculty and interdisciplinary research and leadership in this space.”


Professor Otavio Berwanger 
Executive Director, The George Institute for Global Health, UK | Chair in Clinical Trials, Imperial College London

“The George Institute for Global Health has been integral to the establishment of this crucial Network of Excellence and it is a privilege to help realise its expansion to provide national and international leadership in trans-disciplinary women’s health and sex and gender research.”


Dame Professor Lesley Regan
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Imperial College London | Women's Health Ambassador for England

"If you are interested in, or are working on, any area of research and innovation in women’s health, I would encourage you to engage with the Women’s Health Network. Much like the Women’s Health Strategy for England, the scope of the Network is broad, encompassing both female-specific conditions as well as diseases that affect females and males but for which research has been largely biased towards the male default. All are welcome."