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A portrait of Dr. DeLisa FairweatherEach February, many people are focused on hearts - from the palpitations of love on Valentine's Day to concerns over health for American Heart Month. 

Whitman alumna DeLisa Fairweather '87 will share her expertise on heart health and the impact of gender at "Gender, Skin, Bodies: A Gender Studies Research Roundtable" at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, at the Kimball Theatre.

As director of translational research for the Department of Cardiovascular Diseases at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, Fairweather has studied various components of heart disease for over 20 years with a focus on sex differences in inflammation, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases.

Fairweather will be joined by Raechel Tiffe, instructor of communication studies for Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Whitman faculty members Lydia McDermott, associate professor of composition, and Elyse Semerdjian, associate professor of history. The panel will explore questions about group identity, violence and creative expression, as well as health and wellness.

The event is sponsored by the Gender Studies program, the Robert and Mabel Groseclose Endowed Lecture Fund, and the Arthur G. Rempel Lectureship in Biology, and is free and open to the public.

For her portion, Fairweather will discuss how diseases of the heart differ between genders.

For example, myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle caused by common viruses such as influenza. It is a leading cause of sudden death in children and adults under the age of 50. If not treated, the disease can progress to dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes so enlarged it cannot pump blood effectively. In severe cases, a heart transplant may be necessary, Fairweather said.

"Men have more inflammation in the heart during myocarditis than women and a different type of inflammation," Fairweather said. "Estrogen protects women from heart failure from all causes including myocarditis."

Testing revealed that exosomes found in the estrogen of premenopausal women more effectively prevented inflammation in the heart.
"Diagnosis and therapy for myocarditis and or any inflammatory disease needs to take into account the sex and age of the patient in order to be the most effective," Fairweather said.

Myocarditis is a disease that can affect any age group. Many young adults die suddenly from myocarditis because they exercise when they have a cold, influenza or a stomach virus without realizing they have inflammation in their heart, Fairweather said.

"When you are sick it is not a good idea to exercise, but instead rest until you feel better and then continue your exercise routine," she said.

Other recommendations to maintain a healthy heart and immune system include getting enough sleep, regular exercise, eating foods that don't contain chemicals, and reducing sugar from your diet.