One Year Into the NIH SABV Policy, Sex and Gender in Science Gain Steam

By Dr. Janine A. Clayton

dr claytonWhat a difference a year makes.

In January 2016, NIH required researchers to account for sex as a biological variable (SABV) in studies involving vertebrate animals and humans. The ORWH staff has been actively involved in helping to orient NIH-funded researchers to this policy over the past year, and what’s been particularly exciting is the growing interest in SABV both within and outside of NIH!

My staff and I have received invitations to speak about SABV from NIH Institutes and Centers, academic institutions, professional societies, and even news outlets writing for the general public. In fact, I was honored to receive a 2017 Woman’s Day Magazine Red Dress Award as well as the American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Award recently for our work in SABV.

Timely Ideas

It has been heartening to witness this growing appreciation and understanding of the importance of studying both sexes for science and human health.

Like SABV, there has also been a growing recognition of the role of gender in research and health. Did you know that emergency medical technicians are more likely to initiate CPR for men than women, or that because women may not have the same symptoms of a heart attack as men, women may be misdiagnosed?

The New York Times published an opinion piece  recently about a gender bias discovered at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where women trauma patients were found to be at greater risk of dying of a preventable blood clot than men were. The hospital found that while neither men nor women had been receiving blood clot prevention treatment as often as they should have, women were even less likely to receive it. When the hospital introduced a computerized checklist requiring doctors to review blood clot prevention for every patient, the disparity between men and women disappeared and everyone’s treatment improved.

Issues of the Future

We have discovered much about the role of sex and gender in research and health, but there is still much more to learn. I am grateful for the growing interest in these important topics and encourage all institutions, researchers, and health care personnel to visit our website and contact our office for more information.

Ultimately, accounting for sex and gender will help optimize the health of women, men, girls, and boys. It is the first step on the road to individualized care.

Important resources include: