Ms. Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety
President and CEO, Research Canada
Dr. Cara Tannenbaum
Scientific Director, CIHR’s Institute of Gender and Health
Ninety-three percent of Canadians say that clinical research has important value according to a 2019 CanadaSpeaks! survey, conducted by Research Canada in partnership with five national health organizations (Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Health Charities Coalition of Canada, HealthCareCAN, Innovative Medicines Canada and MEDEC). Interest among Canadians in participating in health and medical research also continues to be high, according to the survey. But what most Canadians do not know is that women have been left out of research—not just as researchers—but as participants in research.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. conducted an analysis of a number of drugs that had been taken off the market over the course of a couple of years due to adverse side effects. They discovered that out of ten drugs removed from the market during this time, eight had side effects that were either worse in women or exclusive to them. Why were these side effects not identified during the rigorous testing that occurs before a drug is approved? It seems it was because sex and gender were not being systematically considered in conducting the drug research.
There are many explanations as to why the feminine sex is left out of research; however, one of the most prevalent reasons has to do with the female reproductive cycle and its associated hormonal fluctuations, which are seen to complicate research. Males also have hormones and they fluctuate just as much, and oftentimes more so than those of females. Nevertheless, females, we are told, introduce messy variables into the petri dish while males are viewed as the neutral standard when it comes to research subjects. Research, especially in its initial, pre-clinical stages (often conducted in mice and rats) is largely conducted on male species in a misguided attempt to simplify things.
In human trials, however, there are much stricter rules in place to ensure that women are included as research subjects. At the same time, sex and gender differences are often overlooked in research design, study implementation and reporting of research. This oversight limits the generalizability of research findings and their application to clinical practice for women, but also for men.
Failure to conduct sex- and gender-based analysis occurs in all areas of research. In the field of engineering, for example, lack of consideration of differences in the physiology and anatomy of females and males in developing car seats and air bags has resulted in higher risk for whiplash injuries among female car occupants compared with men.
Times are Changing
Research funders and publishers in Canada and abroad are beginning to insist on the consideration of sex (biological factors) and gender (psycho-social factors) as part of a rigorous program of research. Canada has long been seen as a global leader in the integration of sex and gender in research; and, as a country, we continue to produce internationally-recognized researchers who are leaders in sex and gender science within their research fields.
Meet Canada’s Leading Women’s Health Researchers
On Wednesday, May 15, 2019, the Parliamentary Health Research Caucus, chaired by Kim Rudd (Northumberland-Peterborough South) with Vice-Chairs, Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton) and Carol Hughes (Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) and Senate Representative, Senator Judith Seidman and Research Canada are hosting a Reception for Parliamentarians on Women’s Health and Health Research: The Case for a Sex- and Gender-based Analysis. The reception will feature over a dozen leading women’s health researchers who are bringing a sex and gender lens to their research in areas such as women and drugs, gender and violence and sex, gender and health outcomes. Please pass by to share YOUR women’s health stories with us.
May 15, 2019
3:30 pm – 6:30 pm
The Wellington Building, Room 430
This article was provided to The Hill Times for publication online. Click here to read the article there.