Friday, September 23, 2011


If you are a tennis fan like me, perhaps earlier this month you too watched the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. The tennis was terrific despite all the weather delays, which spawned a lot of commentary.

I was disheartened to learn from the court-side commentators that two of the top female tennis players had been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders: one with Lyme’s disease and the other with Sjogren’s disease. It reminded me of a book I read several years ago about autoimmune disorders. More than 100 diagnoses—from arthritis to Hashimoto’s disease—are now classified as autoimmune disorders. And, unfortunately for many of us, autoimmune diseases occur three times more frequently in women than in men.

The question is, why are these disorders are so prevalent among women? Researchers are just learning about this and other characteristics unique to women health. Dr. Sabra Klein, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has devoted her research to understanding how males and females differ in their immune responses to viral infection. She hypothesizes that hormones are critical signals for immune responses to viruses. Dr. Klein’s research indicates that females produce much higher immune responses than males, which can be beneficial for overcoming of viruses, but also can make females more likely to develop autoimmune and even inflammatory diseases, like asthma. Perhaps, she suggests, this may be one reason why autoimmune disorders so significantly impact women. Many questions remain unanswered.

Fortunately for us, Dr. Sabra Klein is one of the 32 faculty speaking at this year’s Johns Hopkins annual women’s health conference A Woman’s Journey. I hope you will join us and listen to Dr. Klein. Her presentation might help us understand why Sjogren’s and Lyme’s disease affect so many women, including some very well-known female tennis players.

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