The problem with many scientific studies is that they may not apply to women. That's because 80% of all human, animal, and even cell studies don't use female subjects. And this is significant because gender differences play an important role in research. And it could explain why some treatments don't work for you.
In fact, in a study of over 600 articles that included animal or cell research from five major journals, only 17% of the animal studies that specified the sex examined were of females and a mere 3% were of both sexes. In the cell studies, 76% did not specify the gender. Of those that did, only 21% used female cells and 7% used both. This is a significant issue when it comes to drawing conclusions from the research.
One reason it's so important to examine both sexes is that males and females metabolize drugs differently. Hormonal differences can affect outcomes as well. And females may also manifest and experience illnesses differently. So it's likely that we may benefit differently from treatments.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is looking to change this bias. They're developing a policy that will mandate that all animal and cell studies they fund study and identify both sexes. The editors of the five major journals that these study results were pulled from are making a change as well. They will now require authors of the studies they publish to identify the sex of the animals and the cells they use in their research. And if they don't use both sexes in their studies, they'll be asked to justify why.
These changes to the pre-clinical change of research should have significant effects on translating the results appropriately to women in the clinical stage and human studies. Ultimately, this should lead to improved treatments for female patients. While not every journal is imposing these requirements, many researchers who recognize the importance of studying both sexes are hoping that will eventually be the case.
This is one more reason why you should subscribe to Women's Health Letter. These new changes will allow us to bring you even better information — information that is specific to you as women — that will help you live a long, healthy life.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
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Surgery, August 28, 2014.