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Published on: May 30, 2014
by Lynn Posluns for Huffington Post:
We all want the best medical care for ourselves and our loved ones.
However, getting that care first requires that we undertake great research that will uncover the causes, presentation and outcome of many disease processes. Only then can we begin to best inform the diagnosis and treatment process.
What if 50 percent of the population were excluded from that research process? What if we only researched some people but not others and blankly applied our findings across all human beings, embracing the belief that what works on some surely must work on all?
At best, it sounds ludicrous. At worst, it sounds discriminatory and reckless.
However, it’s exactly what the vast majority of research has done for decades when it comes to women’s health.
With the bulk of research into some of the leading diseases impacting women being conducted on male subjects, there is little understanding of what makes women more susceptible or how to begin turning the tide.
The recent report from the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston highlights some startling statistics. The report titled “Sex Specific Mediacl research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait,” looked at the research when it comes to women for four specific diseases:
Cardiovascular Disease: This is the number one killer of women in the United States, yet sees only about 1/3 of women as its clinical trial subjects and a little less than about 1/3 of those trials report outcomes by sex.
Lung Cancer: The leading cause of cancer death in women — more than breast, ovarian and uterine combined — it also sees non-smoking women as being three times more likely to get it than non-smoking men. Studies that do include men often fail to analyze data by sex or factor hormones or other gender factors. This could help uncover the significant discrepancy in incidence, prevalence and survival among men and women.
Depression: Fewer than 45 percent of studies on anxiety and depression use female lab rats. This is the reality, even though we know that women are at greater risk and that it is one of the leading cause of disease burden worldwide.
Alzheimer’s Disease: The impact of hormonal changes at menopause and gene expression have begun to emerge as potential areas of explanation, however a great deal more research needs to be done.
The report found that women are receiving recommendations from their providers regarding diagnosis, prevention strategies and medical treatments based on research that has not adequately included or reported results on women. This must change. The future health outcomes of 50 percent of the population are at stake.
We must ensure that females are included at the earliest stages of research and that researchers not only look at sex and gender but also analyze and report data separately by sex.
The Women’s Brain Health Initiative is one organization that has been working hard to bring awareness to the inequity in research when it comes to research into diseases that affect the aging brain. This charitable non-profit is raising funds and advocating strongly for women to factor equally into brain aging research.
In order to get there — for brain health and all health matters — we must join together in a collaborative effort and support all stages of the process that lead to a better outcome. We can support the many organizations in North America raising awareness and advocating for research equality. We can support the funding of research equality. We can share our best practices in having our voices heard and having policies evolve to reflect the need for research that takes 100 percent of the population into account.
Ultimately, over time, it will be through our combined efforts that research that takes women into account right from the start will become the norm, not the hard-won exception.
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