Some sex differences, like facial hair or genital anatomy, are plain to see. But people also have hormonal and metabolic sex differences that aren't so obvious, and those can change how diseases affect the body and how drugs work.
So when males are the only test subjects in medical research — both in the animal models that help develop new drugs and medical treatments and in the human clinical trials that follow — specific (and sometimes surprising) effects of those treatments on females remain hidden.
In an article at Refinery29, Sarah Jacoby takes a look at some of those effects, and interviews a few scientists who are spearheading efforts to get their peers to take sex differences seriously.
From the article:
"We don't know yet whether [sex] is going to matter across the board in every illness, in every condition, but we need to know when it does matter," says Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research. She was recently a part of a congressional briefing to discuss the role of sex differences in medical research, co-sponsored by her organisation and The Endocrine Society.
Greenberger's organisation was also integral to helping the 1993 NIH Revitalization Act pass, which required all National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded clinical trials to include women and minority participants. Currently, this group is one of many working to get the same consideration for the animals and cells used in preclinical research — not just humans.
To be sure, including both sexes in medical studies adds complexity (and more problematically in today's funding climate, expense), but it also makes a richer understanding of our biology possible.
Picture: Nick Page via Flickr