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NewsHealth

Report: Medical studies still neglect gender differences

Scientists continue to neglect gender in medical research, endangering women's health by focusing on men in studies that shape the treatment of disease, a report released Monday says.

The lack of attention to sex differences occurs at all stages of research, from lab to doctor's office, says the Connors Center for Women's Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health at George Washington University in Washington. Animal and human studies typically use male subjects and, even when females are included, researchers fail to analyze and report results by sex, the report's authors said.

"We've got to do the work and change the way science is done and translated to clinical care," Paula Johnson, executive director of the Connors Center, said. "Until we do that, we are putting women's health at risk."

The 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act requires that NIH-funded biomedical research with human subjects include and analyze the effects on women and ethnic minorities. But it doesn't extend beyond research funded by the NIH and doesn't apply to animal or cellular studies.

"More often, studies 'control' for sex differences instead of investigating them, but this approach is inadequate when the mechanisms underlying health may operate differently in men and women," the authors wrote.

For example, more women than men die of cardiovascular disease. Yet only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trial subjects are female and less than one-third of clinical trials that include women report outcomes by sex, according to the report.

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