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Labs Need to Include Female Test Subjects for NIH Grants

Update Date: May 15, 2014 09:35 AM EDT
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Future laboratory experiments and tests will no longer be able to discriminate against the sex of the animal subject. For decades, scientists have used male animal test subjects more so than females out of fear that the female animals' hormones will skew the results. Now, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided to address the issue with routine gender bias and hopes to enforce gender equality in the lab.

"Our goal is to transform how science is done," wrote NIH Director Francis Collins and Janine Clayton, director of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health according to the Washington Post.

According to the agency's announcement made this Wednesday, starting on Oct. 1, all researchers that apply for NIH grants will need to include an equal number of male and female test subjects in their preclinical studies. If the studies cannot use the same amount of male and female subjects, the researchers must have "rigorously defined exceptions" in order to receive a grant. On top of this change, the NIH aims to train and educate the researchers and their staff members on designing studies without sex bias after they have received the grant.

"Males get treated as the default experimental subject. If you try to publish a study using only females, you typically have to justify your reasoning - but few people blink at male-only studies," commented Annaliese Beery, a neuroscientist at Smith College in Massachusetts, according to Reuters.

The NIH reported that due to these gender biases, researchers end up learning more about the effects of certain drugs on men and not women, which places women at a medical disadvantage.

"Most scientists want to do the most powerful experiment to get the most durable, powerful answers," Dr. Collins said reported by the New York Times. "For most, this has not been on the radar screen as an important issue. What we're trying to do here is raise consciousness."

The commentary was published in the journal, Nature.

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