More Funding Needed to Explore Women's Health Issues

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of publicity aimed at women to warn them about the symptoms they might experience if they’re having a heart attack. Those symptoms differ tremendously from the signs that men feel when their heart is under siege. So why didn’t we know this before? It’s because early research often focused specifically on men and researchers thought that the findings could be applied to women. However, that assumption increasingly is being found to be wrong.

    And it makes sense. Many things about women differ from men, whether it’s our hormones and the shifts that we experience during menopause, the proportions of our bodies, or how our organs function (or malfunction). Maybe the men were right – we are a different species!

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    Now policymakers are increasingly encouraging researchers to delve into the differences between the sexes in a way that gets the scientists’ attention – through the pocketbook. A press release from the National Institutes of Health announces the awarding of $10.1 million in additional funding to assist grantees in researching the effects of sex in preclinical and clinical studies. While that sounds like a significant amount of money (and it is, in some instances), when you divided it equally among those 82 researchers, the amount drops to $123,170 apiece. That sparse amount might work to run computer models for studies that already were done, but I am not sure how helpful that amount of money will be in studies that are in the early stages and that are going to be costly. (Please note that I’m assuming that the money was actually divided up so that larger chunks are being given to studies that are still in the data-collection phase.)

    The press release notes that the projects receiving funding are in areas that include basic immunology, cardiovascular physiology, neural circuitry and behavioral health.  They will help add to the information known about health through one of the following:

    • Addition of animals, tissues or cells from the opposite sex in order to enable researchers to make sex-based comparisons.
    • Addition of more subjects of either sex to research studies that already includes males and females so that researchers can analyze the difference between the genders.
    • Analysis of existing datasets that contain information about both men and women.

    At least it’s a start. Well, actually the start began in fiscal year 2013 when the NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health funded close to 50 supplements. The total for that fiscal year was $4.6 million. Average that out by supplement and it’s only $92,000 per supplement.

    Still, the policymakers are trumpeting this funding. “This funding strategy demonstrates our commitment to moving the needle toward better health for all Americans, while helping grow our knowledge base for both sexes and building research infrastructure to aid future studies,” said Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, who serves as NIH associate director for women’s health research. “The scientists receiving these awards have approached their research questions with fresh thinking, and are looking for innovation and discovery through a new lens.”

  • Additionally, the NIH offers a series of sex and gender courses to help create a foundation for sex and gender accountability in medical research as well as in the clinical setting and the classroom. These courses are designed to help researchers integrate knowledge about differences between the sexes as well as their similarities into their practice and research. Three courses currently are offered online for free. They are: The Basic Science and the Biological Basis for Sex- and Gender-Related Differences; Sex and Gender Differences in Health and Behavior; and The Influence of Sex and Gender on Disease Expression and Treatment.

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    Yes, all of these efforts do move the needle a bit; however much more needs to be done. According the U.S. Census Bureau, women made up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population in 2013. Therefore, understanding our bodies and our health issues – which has long been ignored by the research community -- needs to become a bigger priority for funders. We’re not men and our bodies and overall health shouldn’t be assumed to follow the patterns that men’s bodies and health do.

    Primary Source for This Sharepost:

    National Institutes of Health. (2014). New supplemental awards apply sex and gender lens to NIH-funded research.

    Office of Research on Women’s Health. (ND). The science of sex and gender in human health.

    U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). State & county quickfacts.

Published On: September 30, 2014