Scientists’ fear of being labelled sexist is putting women’s health at risk because researchers have ignored crucial gender differences in the brain, it has been claimed.
Male and female brains react differently to drugs when it comes to some conditions, such as strokes, but research predominantly concentrates on men, the guest editor of this month’s Journal of Neuroscience Research said.
The research is then generalised and widened out for women, despite there being evidence gender “matters fundamentally, powerfully and pervasively”.
Scientists have widely failed to highlight the differences for fear of being “a pariah in the eyes of neuroscience mainstream”, possibly to the detriment of women’s health, it was claimed.
According to The Times, neurobiologist Larry Cahill, from the University of California Irvine, said for years the assumption had been that “once you get outside of reproductive functions, what you find in males and females is fundamentally the same and therefore there is no reason to study both sexes–and beyond that it is not good to study females as they have pesky circulating hormones”.
He added that the last two decades had proven the assumption as “false, false, false”. “The heart of the resistance is the view that if neuroscience shows males and females are not the same in brain function, we are showing they are not equal. That is false,” he said.
One example Prof Cahill gave was Alzheimer’s, where apoptosis–the process of programmed cell death–occurs differently in men and women. Scientists looking into the process and coming up with drugs to deal with the illness “would damn well be aware of the differences”, he added.
It was added that in some drugs testing cases, these generalisations may have instead put men’s health at risk. Lazaroids, a rejected stroke treatment, may have worked for men but was deemed as no longer working after being used on both sexes.
Eric Prager, the editor of the journal, said in the future any submissions would have to state the sex of the subjects used, as well as an explanation of why this is the case.