Females Ignored in Basic Medical Research – Experts Say

The September 2014 issue of the scientific journal Surgery, published a study from Northwestern University titled, “Sex bias exists in basic science and translational surgical research.” In the opening of their paper, the researchers state the purpose of their study by saying, “Although the Revitalization Act was passed in 1993 to increase enrollment of women in clinical trials, there has been little focus on sex disparity in basic and translational research. We hypothesize that sex bias exists in surgical biomedical research.”

The study triggered several articles in the media including an August 28, 2014, article in Science Daily with the title, “Females ignored in basic medical research, experts say.” Melina R. Kibbe, M.D., senior author of the study and a vascular surgeon at Northwestern Medicine┬« said, “Women make up half the population, but in surgical literature, 80 percent of the studies only use males.”

The problem is that the physiologies of men and women are different. This means that the results of research on men, male animals, or male cells may not reflect what will happen when the medical procedure is applied to females. “Requiring the sex of animals and cells is a very small thing to ask of authors,” Kibbe said. “It should be a requirement of all medical journals.”

Some of the points brought out in the study as reported by the Science Direct article included:

  • 22 percent of publications using animals did not state the sex studied.
  • In studies that stated the sex of the animal, 80 percent used male animals, 17 percent used females, and 3 percent used both.
  • Most of the studies using cell research did not specify the sex (76 percent).
  • In cell research that did specify the sex, 71 percent used only male cells, 21 percent only female cells, and 7 percent used cells from both sexes.
  • Only 1 percent of studies reported sex-based results. In female-prevalent diseases, 44 percent did not report the sex; when reported, only 14 percent studied females.

In the study conclusion, the authors summed up their concerns by saying, “Sex bias, be it overt, inadvertent, situational, financial, or ignorant, exists in surgical biomedical research. Because biomedical research serves as the foundation for subsequent clinical research and medical decision-making, it is imperative that this disparity be addressed because conclusions derived from such studies may be specific to only one sex.”

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