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National Institute of Health will examine ‘effect of sex’ in preclinical testing

In scientific studies, the gender gap is not defined by an hourly wage or staff composition. Preclinical scientific research is done primarily on male subjects. This inequality obscures results and can be dangerous for women, who experience both illness and treatment differently than men.

To counter the male bias, the National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday that it will award $10.1 million in additional grant funding to “explore the effect of sex” in preclinical testing, which occurs on cells or animals before human trials begin.

Current research often ignores how females may react differently to a disease or medication. With this funding, 82 research projects will be able to add or increase the number of female cells or animals to their project, providing better analysis of sex and gender differences.

In May, Janine Austin Clayton, director of the NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health announced the institute would require researchers to report how they are balancing male and female cells and animals in their preclinical experimental design, data collection and reporting.

“Every part of the body is made of cells, and each of those has a sex, depending on whether the body is a man’s or a woman’s,” Clayton wrote in the announcement. “For the most part, looking for differences between males and females has been a blind spot in biomedical research, leaving gaps in our knowledge.”

Research has shown, for example, that males and females cope with substance abuse differently. A study on the relationship between stress and drug cravings found that the prescription drug guanfacine, which reduces the body’s nervous-system response to stress, also reduced cocaine and alcohol cravings in females. It had no effect on males.

21 years ago, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 began addressing the gender bias in research by calling for equal numbers of men and women in human testing. It took over two decades to reach the point where more than half of the participants in NIH studies are women.