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Medical research and the problem of gender

September 22, 2013 Sandle, T. Digital Journal. Sept. 22, 2013

A 2001 U.S. Institute of Medicine report on gender differences recommended major reforms in research and medicine, due to the lack of women involved in research projects. A new report suggests that little has changed.

According to a report by Jarrod Bailey, PhD for The New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), most clinical trials on new drugs primarily use men to trial out the drugs. Dr. Bailey argues that to do so ignores important differences in the bodies of men and women, which can lead to medications released into the market place not always being entirely effective. In the report, Dr. Bailey states:

"There is increasing evidence that research on men is often not applicable to women. Clinical trials traditionally use males to avoid liability for affecting possible pregnancies. Women are also excluded for fear hormonal cycles interfere with results, despite this being an important factor in determining whether drugs are safe. As we learn of more consequences of biological sex differences, such as different drug reactions or susceptibility to various diseases, it becomes problematic – even unscientific – to rely on data derived mainly or exclusively from men."

For example, because men and women do not metabolize drugs in the same manner, factors like dosage and side effects can differ greatly. Such differing drug reactions are not trivial, and can be life-threatening. For the cardiac drug d-Sotalol, the risk of death in women was 2.5 times greater than in men.

Furthermore, as the main report discusses, men and women are differently susceptible to various cancers. Here, women are much more likely to suffer from tobacco-related cancers, e.g. of the lung and mouth, but are less susceptible than men to cancers related to pesticide exposure, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft-tissue sarcomas. There are also differences in dioxin-related cancers: women are more prone to stomach and colon cancers; men to leukemia and esophageal and rectal cancers.

Similarly, scientific evidence shows results from research on animals most often does not translate to humans. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nine out of 10 drugs that work in animals fail in humans. Documenting the impact of differences in research results even between men and women further challenges the use of other species to benefit humans.

In relation to the report, NEAVS, together with the American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research (AFAAR), New York, are planning to support scientists committed to non-animal research with the launch of a 2014-15 Fellowship Grant for Alternatives to Animal Research in Women’s Health and Gender Differences. The $40,000 postdoctoral annual award will go to a woman working to develop, use, or validate non-animal alternatives to advance women’s health and/or understanding of gender-based differences in research results.

Read the original story here.