When Wendy U. and Thomas C. Naratil, of the Yale College Class of ’83, signed on to co-chair their class’s 30th college reunion last year, they knew they wanted to make a gift to the university that would have a significant and lasting effect. Since the late 1990s the Naratils have had a relationship with Women’s Health Research at Yale (WHRY), a program whose mission includes ensuring that women are included in research studies, gender differences in health are examined, and health outcomes are analyzed by gender.

In an effort not only to spearhead their class’s reunion campaign, but also to advance WHRY’s mission, the Naratils have given $1 million to establish an endowment that will offer significant support annually for pilot research in women’s health and gender differences. The Wendy U. and Thomas C. Naratil Pioneer Award in Women’s Health Research will provide up to $50,000 to one faculty member each year.

WHRY was founded in 1998 with funding from the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation by Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D., the Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women’s Health Research and professor of psychiatry and psychology. Since then, WHRY has distributed $4.5 million to 70 Yale investigators under its Pilot Project Program (PPP). The PPP supports Yale researchers generating feasibility data—“proof-of-concept” findings they need to win larger grants from funders like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This “seed” money has led to $52 million in new, external grants that allow researchers to build on their innovations. The Naratil Pioneer Award will complement and expand the reach of the PPP.

“Dr. Mazure’s program is a proven incubator of ideas,” Wendy Naratil says. “Tom and I are very excited about partnering with this organization to create an award that will help fund innovative medical research that will ultimately advance women’s health.”

According to Mazure, also associate dean for faculty affairs, three-fourths of investigators funded through the PPP are junior and mid-level faculty “who need initial funding to launch their research.” More than half of these investigators have used their pilot research to obtain larger external grants—more than five times the success rate for new investigator-initiated NIH grant applications.

As with other PPP-funded grants, the Naratil Pioneer Award recipient will be determined following an application process and review by a study section composed of Yale scientists. The award is designed to support projects that are “outside-the-box, innovative, high-risk but high-payoff,” Mazure says, “or projects that are close to fruition but that [scientists] can’t quite bring home without some additional help.”

Projects funded by the PPP have included developing new models for treating breast cancer and preventing tumor metastasis, addiction, cardiovascular disease, depression, osteoporosis, and adaptation of returning women combat veterans.

“The establishment of these permanent funds signals that women’s health research is here to stay, and the impact of our research will be even greater. I am deeply grateful,” Mazure says.