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Gender Matters in Research Subjects

July 17, 2017

Mouse Infographic

New research from the United Kingdom points to flaws in the thinking that men and women are generally interchangeable as research subjects.

Scientists working at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute analyzed up to 234 physical characteristics of more than 50,000 mice. In a standard group of mice – control mice – their sex had an impact on 56.6% of quantitative traits, such as bone mass, and on 9.9% of qualitative traits, including whether the shape of the head was normal or abnormal. In mice that had a gene switched off – mutant mice – their sex modified the effect of the mutation in 13.3% of qualitative traits and up to 17.7% of quantitative traits.

In human subjects research, although more women are taking part in clinical trials since a U.S. law (PDF) required more accounting for gender, women are still under-represented, according to the institute. And, a review of international animal research between 2011 and 2012 found that when the studies specified sex, 80% of studies used solely males, and only 3% included both males and females.

“This was a scientific blind spot that we really thought needed exploration,” said. Dr. Natasha Karp, lead author of the study recently published in Nature Communications. “A person’s sex has a significant impact on the course and severity of many common diseases, and the consequential side effects of treatments – which are being missed. Now we have a quantitative handle on how much sexual dimorphism has an impact in biomedical research.”

The iSpecimen Marketplace, which makes it easy for researchers to find the human specimens they need from the patients they want, accounts for the importance of gender as well as numerous other variables that affect research, enabling users to filter specimen searches not only by sex, but also by criteria such as age, race, ethnicity, disease stage, and country of collection.