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NIH issues grants for studying 'effect of sex' in preclinical medical research

"By making strategic investments that incorporate sex into existing funded studies, we are paving the way for researchers to better understand when sex matters in their research," said Dr. James M. Anderson.

By
Brooks Hays
Preclinical trials and medical research too often feature predominantly male test subjects, both animals and human cells, NIH officials say. (CC/National Cancer Institute)
Preclinical trials and medical research too often feature predominantly male test subjects, both animals and human cells, NIH officials say. (CC/National Cancer Institute)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- The majority of preclinical trials -- whether conducted on isolated human cells or animals -- predominantly feature test subjects and materials with male traits. Officials with the National Institutes of Health say this reality is problematic.

To better understand the issue, the agency has awarded $10.1 million in additional funding to 82 grantees exploring the "effects of sex" in medical research.

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While the new funding won't immediately correct the tendency for preclinical drug trials and research to feature male subjects, officials hope it can give them a better understanding of the true costs of the gender bias.

"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," Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, NIH associate director for women's health research, said in a press release. "The scientists receiving these awards have approached their research questions with fresh thinking, and are looking for innovation and discovery through a new lens."

"By making strategic investments that incorporate sex into existing funded studies, we are paving the way for researchers to better understand when sex matters in their research," Dr. James M. Anderson, manager of the NIH Common Fund, added.

The 82 research projects receiving additional funding will add or increase the number of female cells or animals in their experiments, and scientists -- in addition to exploring their original hypothesis or purpose -- will focus on isolating sex and gender differences.

The supplemental funding is part of a larger effort by NIH's Office of Research on Women's Health to rectify gender inequality in medical research. In May, the NIH began requiring researchers affiliated with or funded by any of the agency's departments to begin reporting on their plans to balance male and female cells and animals in their experiments.

"Every part of the body is made of cells, and each of those has a sex, depending on whether the body is a man's or a woman's," Clayton said in an announcement issued this spring. "For the most part, looking for differences between males and females has been a blind spot in biomedical research, leaving gaps in our knowledge."

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