Use More Female Lab Rats, Feds Tell Scientists

NIH says gender bias in research hurts women's health
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2014 4:47 PM CDT

(Newser) – If medical researchers want money from the National Institutes of Health, they'll have to put an end to the boys' club in the lab. The new NIH rules aren't talking about a gender bias among the scientists themselves, however, but among their test subjects—specifically animals and cells, reports the New York Times. By and large, most research relies on male lab rats or other animals, or male tissues and cells. The NIH fears this is translating into drugs that are less effective in women or carry more serious side effects.

"Women experience higher rates of adverse drug reactions than men do," write two NIH officials in Nature outlining the pending requirements. Starting in October, scientists that want federal money must show that they've balanced their male and female test subjects and specimens. “For most, this has not been on the radar screen as an important issue,” says the NIH's Dr. Francis S. Collins. "What we’re trying to do here is raise consciousness.” Scientists have traditionally shied away from female lab animals in the belief that they'd be tougher to use given their menstrual and hormonal cycles, but a spate of recent research has disproven the notion, reports the Verge. And yet, "the male-centered practice persists," it adds. (Read more NIH stories.)

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