The recent announcement by the NIH that it would change its funding decisions to address the lack of female animals and cells in early bench research, was indeed good news. Yet, to date, no funding rules have changed. To be fair, the NIH did issue a request for information from the research community so they could better understand the barriers to inclusion. They are now reviewing those comments.
According to an Oct. 28 article in the Scientific American, “once in place and codified, the requirement would be a major shift for the nations’ biomedical labs, many of which study mostly or exclusively male animals. One estimate found that pharmacology studies include five times as many male animals as female ones…”
The announcement did shake up the scientific community and has generated plenty of excuses —too costly to include both sexes, not all conditions will have sex differences, etc. It behooves the NIH to carefully consider all public comments and come up with thoughtful guidelines to insure inclusion but not hamper scientific progress. We also need to remember that sex differences are not just about females. A drug may not work well in women but it could be a lifesaver for men—and this alone would justify the importance of good science that includes and analyzes outcomes reported by sex!
Those of us who have been advocating to include more females in research are impatient (it’s been over 20 years since the NIH required the inclusion of women in clinical trials!!!–a goal not quite reached!!)…however, it is important that we define rules that are fair, enforceable, manageable and result in the best science “our tax dollars can buy!”