Overviews of research have found that cohorts often contain an inadequate number of women and that researchers fail to break down findings by sex.
One of the ongoing issues in drug research is the limited number of women used in double-blind clinical trials. Overviews of research have found that cohorts often contain an inadequate number of women and that researchers fail to break down findings by sex. This is kind of a big deal, since women and men* are physiologically different and potentially respond to drugs differently.
A recent study published in JAIDS, Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome found that women are critically under-represented in HIV/AIDS research. While women comprise half of the HIV positive population in the United States, they are less than 20% of the subjects in anti-retroviral drug studies. The lack of sex-specific data is important because of “Dissimilarities in body surface, hepatic function, drug metabolism and clearance are among the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic differences that can cause different treatment responses in women.” That’s fancy science-speak for “NOT EVERYBODY IS A MAN, YO.”
The problem is not limited to the US. While women make up 11% of participants in the HIV vaccine studies, the percentage in lower income countries is even less than that.
This is all troubling because therapies need to account for fundamental differences in the chemical soup that makes up all of our bodies. While it’s critical to strive for equity in the social treatment of people regardless of their sex, gender, gender identity, or gender presentation, it’s quite different to expect all bodies to react the same way to medications. While it’s entirely possible that HIV prevention and treatment methods may cross sex lines seamlessly and offer similar levels of efficacy, there’s no way of knowing that for sure unless women are adequately represented in the studies.
Get on the stick, science. Figure out how to get women in the lab. We know you're smart enough to do it.
* I am using the terms “women” and “men” in this article as designations of sex that would be relevant in medical research. This is not meant to exclude those with non-binary gender identities or those whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex, but is simply the most efficacious language choice for summarizing scientific data. My apologies for any offense my choice of wording may cause.