Women have made invaluable gains when it comes to politics, the workforce, equal pay, and childcare over the years, but there's one arena where they've been left out of the party for far too long: clinical trials and research.
Now the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is hoping to change this by instructing researchers to start including female tissues, cells, and lab animals in their experiments.
For decades, the medical breakthroughs that have pushed through life-saving drugs and treatments relied solely on male cells, DNA, and lab animals—though women now make up about half of all participants in clinical trials, according to the New York Times—for fear that hormonal fluctuations could skew results. That means when it comes to everything from dosaging instructions to potential side effects, we know more about how they affect men than how they affect women. More importantly, women tend to suffer more severe side effects when starting drugs or treatments and often derive less benefit from them.
"We have known since 2001 that every cell has a sex, and that these biological sex differences influence men and women's health in every way," Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research, told Shape.com in an email. "Yet almost all medical research in the past has focused exclusively on male subjects."
Examining these basic sex differences all the way down to the smallest level could be a game-changer, especially when it comes to studying killers like heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. "By requiring female cells and animals at the preclinical level, and subsequently females in all phases of human studies, we will improve our understanding of how diseases impact men and women differently, and how treatments should be tailored to meet patient’s individual needs," Greenberger says.
The new policy doesn't roll out until October, and the NIH says it's still hammering out all the details. Plus, it's difficult to say how the new policy will play out in practice, but hopefully it will have a positive and lasting effect on the research being done.
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