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Gender Equality In Research

February 10, 2014, 6:17 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

Gender Equality In Research

If you and your spouse take the same medication, the drug's reaction could be much different in your body than a person of the opposite sex.

A recent report on "60 Minutes" used the sleep aid Ambien as an example. Researchers found it can be much more potent in women.

From cancer to type one diabetes, Sanford researchers are studying many different diseases. For each trial, they aim to get the same number of male and female participants. Decades ago that wasn't the case. Clinical trials were made up of mostly men.

Any clinical study now has to go through an institutional review. One of the things considered is gender equality.

"If you don't have gender balance, you need to explain why. That may be because at that point you already know maybe the drug is going to be metabolized differently or if it's in women of potentially birthing age, you have to be very careful," Vice President of Sanford Research David Pearce said.

However, most projects don't have gender equality in the pre-clinical stage before a drug is tested in humans. That's because it's best not to mix female and male mice.

“It’s easier to work with male mice because tracking the estrus cycle in female mice is somewhat difficult. That will truly influence the way some of the drugs are metabolized," Pearce said.

After getting results, researchers can put all the information from both sexes together or they can separate it by a specific category, like gender, to find trends.

"We're finding more and more that the interactions of those particular genes are different in men and women," Pearce said.

Which is why Pearce says researchers are focusing more on an individual's DNA and how that relates to drug metabolism. This will hopefully prevent over and under medicating patients.

Not only do women now play a larger role in clinical trials, but more women are choosing the research field, especially locally. At Sanford 50 percent of research staff are women. Nationwide, that statistic is 15 percent.

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