Biology in the Laboratory
Inside Other Biotech Labs
Why have there been so many men’s health studies—but few for women?
No, it is not your imagination, ladies; yes, there is, indeed, a discrepancy between male and female scientific studies—and those health studies favor men (even when it comes to using male animals for studies versus female animals on experiments that have nothing to do with gender). For example, in clinical trials, much of the reason for ignoring females seems to have to do with hormones (males don’t have a menstrual cycle, so their hormones don’t fluctuate as much; thus, the results are more “stable”) and pregnancy (in 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned women who had the potential to become pregnant from participating in early stage clinical trials)—ideals that have lingered. But in the past few decades, gender research has changed, albeit slowly. More women’s studies have emerged, such as the Nurse’s Health Study that started in 1976 and, over the years, has included over 200,000 nurse-participants; there is also the Women’s Health Initiative, started in 1991, with over 150,000 participants, which studies postmenopausal women.
The reason for more emphasis on female studies (besides the fact that they represent over half the world’s population) has to do with necessity: These recent studies have shown that males and females do have some significant health differences. For example, it’s been found that women only need half as much of the influenza vaccine for the same level of protection as men, but they are often given the same dose as men. It has also been shown that daily aspirin helps reduce a first heart attack in men by a third, but not so much for women (yet it does help with reducing strokes in women); but if you are a healthy woman over sixty-five years of age, a daily aspirin will help reduce strokes and heart attacks similar to men who take the drug (but it also can cause gastrointestinal problems for both genders). And in the controversial world of stem cell research, researchers have discovered that cells from women can regenerate skeletal muscle tissue better than cells extracted from men, but most of the research has been done on male cells.