Historically, research into various diseases and health conditions was conducted exclusively on men, despite the fact that both men and women are affected by a range of illnesses and stand to benefit from the most contemporary treatments. Today, as we aim to conduct inclusive health research and to provide effective, personalized healthcare to all people, we recognize a significant truth: A number of important differences exist between men’s and women’s experiences of health and illness. Some diseases occur more commonly among women, while others disproportionately affect men. Further, men and women frequently experience different symptoms of the same underlying problem or illness (e.g., heart disease), and they often respond differently to the same medications or therapies. To learn more about cardiovascular disease, cancer, diseases of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, reproductive biology, autoimmune diseases, and so many other conditions, we must accept that the sex of an individual contributes to health and disease in significant ways.


In the past, the research community assumed that beyond the reproductive system, differences between men and women simply did not exist or were not relevant. Some of the reasons researchers have preferred male subjects include: the cost of using both sexes, a sense of having to protect vulnerable women and/or a potential fetus, uniformity, avoiding the “complications” of the menstrual cycle, and perceived complexity of recruitment.  However, the truth, as outlined in Dr.


NIH Request for Information

The NIH has formed a trans-NIH working group to inform the development of policies related to the inclusion of female animals and cells in basic research (most of this type of research is done on males only) . This Request for Information (RFI) seeks input from the research community and other interested stakeholders on the following topics regarding the consideration of sex as a biological variable in biomedical research. Public comment is sought for but not limited to the following:

  • Whether consideration of sex as a biological variable is an issue affecting the reproducibility, rigor, and/or generalizability of research findings. 
  • Areas of science (e.g., cancer, neuroscience) or phases of research (e.g., basic, translational) conducted with animals that have the greatest opportunity or need for considering sex as a biological variable. 
  • Areas of science or phases of research conducted with cells and/or tissues that have the greatest opportunity or need for considering sex as a biological variable. 
  • Main impediments (e.g. scientific, technical, and other) to considering sex as a biological variable in research.
  • Ways in which NIH can facilitate the consideration of sex as a biological variable in NIH-supported research.
  • Any additional comments you would like to offer to NIH about the development of policies for considering sex as a biological variable in research involving animals, tissues, or cells.  


Responses to this RFI must be submitted electronically using the web-based form at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/rfi/rfi.cfm?ID=37.  Please do not submit comments by other mechanisms, such as fax or email.

Responses will be accepted through October 13, 2014.

The Illinois Women’s Health Registry was created to encourage more women to participate in research, and to encourage more scientists and providers to include women in their research studies.

The Institute offers the Women's Health Research Monthly Forum. This is a one-hour educational program, during lunchtime, to feature professionals from Northwestern University and other institutions across the nation to present basic science research, clinical research, clinical practice guideline and social implications related to women. The Monthly Forum is a dynamic venue to encourage more sex- and gender-based studies and to provide support and role models for emerging women's health scholars.

The Oncofertility Consortium® is a national, interdisciplinary initiative designed to address the complex health care and quality-of-life issues that concern young cancer patients whose fertility may be threatened by their disease or its treatment.

The Women's Health Research Institute has compiled a list of sex-sensitive academic and clinical resources for researchers, providers, educators and students..

Repropedia is a reproductive dictionary created by an international team of scientists and clinicians led by investigators at Northwestern University. An editorial board reviews all entries to ensure that definitions are both accurate and accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike.

There is a lack of funding for sex- and gender-based research, in addition to a lack of awareness that conducting sexually dimorphic studies is necessary. In service of our mission to increase the sex- and gender-research portfolio at Northwestern, the Institute developed its Pioneer Awards program to provide investigators with seed funding.