In the past, the research community assumed that beyond the reproductive system, differences between men and women simply did not exist or were not relevant. Some of the reasons researchers have preferred male subjects include: the cost of using one sex, a sense of having to protect vulnerable women and/or a potential fetus, uniformity, avoiding the “complications” of the menstrual cycle, and perceived complexity of recruitment.
However, the truth, as outlined in Dr. Teresa Woodruff's 2010 Nature editorial, is that sex-and gender-based approaches to research and medicine frame important questions about the differences and similarities in men’s and women’s normal biological, behavioral and social function in combination with their experience of the same diseases.
Why do we need Sex-based Research?
- Historically, the research community assumed that beyond the reproductive system, differences did not exist or were not relevant.
- In the past, women were excluded from many studies and we cannot apply what we learned in men to women.
- Drug safety issues during pregnancy, lactation, menopause and during other life events have not been adequately addressed.
- Too few studies are specifically designed to investigate the differences between males and females at the basic cellular and molecular levels.
Dr. Woodruff has been an advocate for gender specificity in clinical trials in an effort to better understand the effects that technologies and procedures have on women and is the Founder and Director of the Women’s Health Research Institute. To that end, she created the Illinois Women's Health Registry to ensure more women are being included in clinical studies. By creating a friendly gateway between the community and the researchers, we can provide motivated individuals a chance to participate in sex- and gender-based research studies, we can take the recruitment burden off the busy researchers and we can advocate for mandated sex- and gender-based parity in all NIH funded work. The goal of the Registry is to help researchers better understand how and why illnesses develop differently or similarly in men vs. women, how to best treat diseases in women and what women can specifically do to prevent illness.