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Women Still Underrepresented in Medical Studies

Update Date: Mar 03, 2014 03:21 PM EST

Even though medical research has improved over the past decades, a new study is reporting that women's health continues to be underrepresented in government-funded research studies. This study's findings suggest that the law passed 20 years ago, which mandated federally funded research studies to include women, is not enough.

"The science that informs medicine routinely fails to consider the impact of sex and gender, and this occurs at some of the earliest stages of research -- from animal to human studies," said report author Dr. Paula Johnson according to Philly. "There are still enormous gaps in the scientific process as it relates to women."

Dr. Johnson, who is the executive director of the Connors Center, added, according to the Bloomberg Businessweek, "We've got to do the work and change the way science is done and translated to clinical care. Until we do that, we are putting women's health at risk."

The authors of the report found that less than one-third of all cardiovascular clinical trial participants are females. One-third of all trials that do include women do not report sex-specific results. The lack of female participants is alarming because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in American women. Studies done on lung cancer, which tends to develop differently in nonsmoking women than in nonsmoking men, also tend to not report sex-specific outcomes. Lung cancer causes more deaths per year in comparison to breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined in female patients. In terms of animal studies, the researchers found that a little fewer than 45 percent of studies focused on anxiety and depression used female animals even though women have a higher incidence rate for the mental illness.

"We still have a lot of bias embedded in academic medicine, and certainly it comes down to the people actually doing the studies. Women are still struggling to get to the highest levels of academic medicine. In many cases, women are not the primary drivers in many of these studies," said Dr. Eve Higginbotham, vice dean for diversity and inclusion at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "Change takes time, and it's going to take a number of factors to drive that," Higginbotham said. "Having the summit is a good first step in at least acknowledging the lack of progress that has been made and making people more aware."

The report's findings will be released at a national summit on women's health issues in Boston, MA.

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