In a May 2014 Nature comment , NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health Janine A. Clayton, M.D., FARVO, called on scientists to take a deliberate approach in considering sex in preclinical research to make sure that men and women get the full benefit of medical research. As a first step, the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) developed a program to catalyze exploratory research on sex and gender differences by providing administrative supplement to ongoing NIH-funded research, and announced an investment of $10.1 million in supplemental funding to bolster the research of 82 grantees to explore the effects of sex in preclinical and clinical studies in Fiscal Year 2014.

This progressive approach will result in greater awareness of the need to study both sexes, demonstrate how research can incorporate sex, and reinforce the value of taking it into account as these studies yield results.

The projects span a wide array of science, including basic immunology, cardiovascular physiology, neural circuitry, and behavioral health. The projects will contribute to the body of sex- and gender-based knowledge, and can improve human health by adding one of the following elements to the original project:

  • Addition of animals, tissues, or cells of the opposite sex to allow sex-based comparisons
  • Addition of more subjects of either sex to a sample that already includes both males and females to allow analysis for a sex/gender difference
  • Analysis of existing datasets containing information from males and females

Most Institutes and Centers at NIH have funded supplements since the program began. This year’s investment, which has a focus on preclinical research, brings total support for the program to $14.7 million, which includes additional funds from the NIH Common Fund.

The new awards include 18 supplements to existing grants from the NIH Common Fund, which identifies and funds areas of biomedical science to create new fields of research and to develop large-scale public resources that benefit the research community. In keeping with the trans-NIH scope of the Common Fund, knowledge gained from these supplements is expected to affect research across a variety of scientific disciplines.