“If you don’t include sex and gender, you get serious errors,” a study co-author said
Make science more female.
Medical research teams that include women scientists are more likely to account for how gender and sex factor into disease and treatment, new Stanford University research published in the journal Nature Human Behavior suggests.
That benefits men and women alike: “Gender and sex analysis is increasingly recognized as a key factor in creating better medical research and health care,” the study authors report.
“If you have more women on the research team, specifically in leadership positions, you get an increase in sex and gender analysis in the research, or vice-versa,” co-author Londa Schiebinger said in a statement.
It clearly matters: Despite women dying from cardiovascular disease at higher rates than men, they are underrepresented in clinical trials. Men also monopolize cancer research trials, the study noted. Meanwhile, osteoporosis research largely centers on women — despite one-third of osteoporosis-spurred hip fractures actually plaguing elderly men. Men and women also differ in their exposure to occupational hazards and lifestyle behaviors.
Yet, the authors write, “associations between gender, biological sex and health outcomes remain largely neglected in the literature, with potentially life-threatening and costly consequences.”
“If you don’t include sex and gender, you get serious errors,” Schiebinger said.
The study, which analyzed more than 1.5 million medical research papers published from 2008 to 2015, found women made up 40% of primary study authors, and 27% of last authors (suggesting they led planning and development of questions). Overall, they comprised 35% of study authors. The researchers linked women’s presence in a group of authors — especially in the first and last positions — to studies being weighted with gender- and sex-related factors.
These results, the authors argue, illustrate a symbiotic need to include gender and sex analysis in disease research and to boost women’s participation on research teams. “There’s a symmetry between the two objectives,” lead study author Mathias Nielsen said. “If we add more focus on gender and sex analysis, that might draw more women into the research.”
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