When it comes to the Battle of the Sexes you may be surprised to hear this competition is a popular one in the field of health research. On Tuesday, September 22, 2014 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it will be distributing $10.1 million in grants to scientists and research facilities studying a host of topics, from drug addiction to migraines. These funds are intended to help support the inclusion of more research subjects, particularly females, in studies that require a little more representation of the XX chromosomes in their laboratory subjects. This means the participation of more female animals, even cell lines, in research laboratories. The remainder of the awarded money will be used to supplement analysis of gender differences in the studies’ resulting data.
Typically scientists will trend towards single-sex studies because the lack of genetic variation reduces variability in study results and thus allows researchers to identify the effect of a particular treatment or control more easily. Unfortunately, this hold on the participation of female subjects removes any chance of identifying the differences in study response according to gender (should one exist). As a result “we literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology,” states Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, associate director for women’s health research at NIH. Other reasons for performing single-sex studies include the high costs associated with inclusion of female animals that result from attempting to control the estrous cycles.
Regardless o f cost, however, or the potential complicated analysis of study results, female subjects are important for study insight. A trigger that might occur only in females could provide a clue to how a particular disease or treatment works. Migraines, for example, occur primarily in females and it is suspected that hormone fluctuations are the cause. Other studies this NIH grant will aid in evaluating gender differences include ones on stroke, drug addiction, immune responsiveness to vaccines, and molecular differences between female and male fetus placentas.
NIH’s new grant could transform the direction of modern research and set a new model for research studies across the nation. Do you think the efforts for female inclusion will offer more conclusive study results? Or do feel NIH’s grant money could be better-spent on other issues? Leave your thoughts below!
Photo Credit: Cea.