Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Sex Discrimination in Medical Research and its Impact on COVID

Is Sex Discrimination in Medical Research Thwarting a Cure for COVID?

This piece is part of “Women on the Frontlines: COVID and Beyond,” an online symposium examining the political, economic, social and legal status of women.

Sponsored by the Cornell Law Review with the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy and co-hosted by Ms. and others, the symposium brings to light the ways women labor and lead at the forefront of society, constituting the foundation of essential workers, and performing critical services from child to medical care. But during the pandemic, women (especially women of color) suffer persistent economic constraints; health and death disparities; obstruction of rights; and the troubling perceptions of expendability. Watch “Women on the Frontlines: COVID and Beyond” for a discourse about the role of women and pathways toward a more just society.

When I read that men are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as women, I thought of science fiction books that posit pandemics that wipe out men.  Only men. ***

 

Such scenarios could plausibly exist, given the biological differences between men and women.  Women have a more aggressive immune response than do men.  Women’s hormones, too, play a role in fighting infections by slowing the process that causes tissue damage, while testosterone can help an infection enter the cells. 

 

During previous pandemics, including the 1918 Spanish flu and the SARS outbreak, men died at higher rates than women did—even when, as was the case with SARS, women had higher rates of infection.

 

Despite the knowledge we might gain about COVID-19 and other infectious diseases from research on women, most medical research focuses on men.

 

  • A study of heart disease—the leading cause of death among women—was undertaken on 22,000 men and no women. 
  • A federal study on health and aging proceeded for twenty years with only male subjects. 
  • Absurdly, even though women account for 80 percent of autoimmune disorder patients, the main research subjects are—you guessed it—men. 
  • Even basic biological research is done mainly with male mice!  

Male-Centered Research is Killing Us

 

The dangers from male-centered research are profound.  Even though women consume 80 percent of medications in the U.S., drug research is still predominantly conducted on men and fails to consider how drugs act over the course of a woman’s menstrual cycle.  Consequently, drugs can reach the market that are actually harmful to women.  In fact, eight of the ten dangerous drugs removed from the market between 1997 and 2000 caused greater harm and fatalities for women. 

 

A wide range of medications, including some antihistamines, gastrointestinal drugs, antibiotics and antipsychotics trigger potentially fatal heart arrhythmias more often in women than men.  

 

In 1993, Congress adopted a law designed to ensure that women were allowed to participate in medical research. 

 

When discrimination persisted, the National Institutes of Health in 2016 announced guidelines requiring federally-funded scientists to enroll women in studies, to disaggregate medical research data by sex, and to study female animals and female cells as well.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2021/10/sex-discrimination-in-medical-research-and-its-impact-on-covid.html

Gender, Healthcare, Science | Permalink

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