More than £7 million in new funding will boost research into women’s reproductive health, after a series of grants were awarded to University of Exeter researchers.

Announced on International Women’s Day, the awards will help researchers progress on areas that have been under-studied globally, including menopausal symptoms, hormonal imbalances and reproductive ageing.

Professor Anna Murray, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Exeter Medical School, is leading a £5.6million Wellcome Discovery Award with colleagues at University of Cambridge, University of Copenhagen and Imperial College, London, to further research into reproductive conditions such as infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Funding for the Healthy Reproductive Ageing (HERA) study will enable Professor Murray and colleagues to continue their work which has previously highlighted how the discovery of genes linked to menopause and puberty are crucial in understanding reproductive ageing in women.

Professor Murray has also received funding of £800,000 from the Medical Research Council for research with colleagues from the University of Exeter, University of Melbourne, and the University of Bristol, which will look at menopause symptoms of over 700,000 women to look for new genetic links in order to improve future treatment options.

Professor Murray said: “Having long-term funding for our research will enable us to really drive forward discoveries in women’s reproductive health, which is fundamental to finding new treatments. Our studies address an important and under-researched area of medicine and inform us about how reproductive ageing affects women’s health and wellbeing.”

Dr Katherine Ruth, Lecturer in Clinical and Biomedical Sciences is leading on the HEALTH-PM project which has received £1.2 million funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee. The study will use innovative epidemiology to help investigate the impact of hormonal changes across life on health after menopause – a time at which rates of disease are known to increase rapidly.

Dr Ruth said: “Women spend over one-third of their lives after menopause, yet the effects of hormone therapies, such as testosterone, remain controversial. This funding will provide a powerful opportunity to combine genetics and health records in many thousands of women to better understand such risks. Given the possibility for modifying hormone levels with existing therapies, this offers the potential to benefit the health of half of the ageing population.”

These latest funding announcements come after the 2021 launch of the 4M Consortium, led by Dr Gemma Sharp, Associate Professor at the University of Exeter and funded by the GW4 Alliance. 4M recently announced a partnership with leading menstrual health app, Clue, and are also hosting an international conference in Exeter in June which will bring together researchers and stakeholder organisations to further conversations around menstrual and mental health in the society.

Dr Sharp said: “We welcome this latest funding for important research projects that aim to make a real difference to the lives of many women. Women’s health research has been historically underfunded, despite the huge impact that reproductive health can have on women’s quality of life, and International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on that and look forward to improved treatment options in the future. It’s also important to see Exeter leading the charge on these significant studies and establishing itself as a potential global leader in women’s health studies.”