Gender bias in the medical field is a problem, specifically in research. We first look at what gender bias in medical research is. Then we investigate how it affects evidence-based medicine, sex omission and male bias in cell experiments.
What is Gender Bias in Medical Research?
There are several points where gender bias touches medical research. The design of research experiments often fails to take gender into account. Yet, results are often generalised to include both sexes. This can create problems when results are converted into evidence-based medicine.
Cell experiments often fail to account for gender. Although this has improved, research still only includes the female gender in half of all the reported cell studies. Additionally, omissions are more common in cell line development than in research using primary cells.
The Effects of Gender Bias in Evidence-Based Medicine
The failure to apply gender equality to research was addressed by legislation in the 1970s. Researchers responded by using participants from both genders in their studies. Results were then applied to both populations. However, how certain conditions present, progress, and respond to various treatments may differ for the two genders.
An example will help to clarify the problem. Coronary artery disease is a hot topic for research. What is studied depends a lot on research funding and where stakeholders see the priorities. These studies place more emphasis on researching the disease in men than in women, despite the fact that women have greater mortality rates at higher ages.
In another example, only 17% of women were included in certain clinical studies of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Differences were found in how women reacted to NSAIDS. However, due to their small number, this did not lead to protective policies for women.
In the USA, 80% of prescription medicines were withdrawn as they had not accounted sufficiently for how women would be affected. Part of the problem is the dearth of funding being offered for research into women’s health conditions. Another gap occurs during the recruitment of participants for the trial.
Sex Omission and Male Bias in Cell Experiments
Cell experiments have not escaped the lack of female inclusion. In a study of 107 articles that detailed their research on cell experiments:
- 50% provided details of gender
- 17% used female and male cells
- 21% only used male cells
- 11% only used Female cells
Leaving out gender happened more often when cell lines were utilized than for research using primary cells. When the primary cells of rats were used in the 107 studies mentioned above, over 50% did not use female cells at all. The results of studies done in 2013 were found to espouse gender equality in a quarter of the articles. This rose to half in 2018 but sex omission was still common. There is still a long way to go.
Little analysis is done on the gender factor. This is true even when both genders are included in experiments. There is also a need for cell line development technology to have a basis in equal gender representation.
It may be that the low inclusion of women in medical research is a socioeconomic bias that is carried over into cell research.