|A Person's 'Sex Does Matter,' Report
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Medical researchers
ought to devote more time and energy to looking into the differences
between men and women, a panel of experts said on Tuesday in a
report that delivers perhaps the understatement of the year: "Sex
The Institute of Medicine, which provides advice to the U.S.
government on health policy, issued a report saying that differences
between the sexes could be seen in the prevalence and severity of a
wide range of illnesses and medical conditions.
Those variations must be weighed when designing and analyzing
biomedical and health-related research in all fields, a 16-member
panel of experts assembled by the institute said in its report.
"Over the past decade new discoveries in basic human biology have
made it increasingly apparent that many normal physiological
functions -- and in many cases, pathological functions -- are
influenced either directly or indirectly by sex-based differences in
biology," the report said.
"Sex does matter," Mary Lou Pardue of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, who headed the panel, said in the preface to the
report. "It matters in ways that we did not expect. Undoubtedly it
also matters in ways that we have not begun to imagine."
The report said that basic genetic and physiological differences,
in combination with environmental factors, resulted in behavioral
and cognitive differences between boys and girls and men and women.
Physiological differences in the brain, sex-typed behavior and
gender identity, and sex differences in cognitive ability should be
studied at all points in the life span, the experts recommended.
Until only recently, medical researchers have done little to
ensure that women receive the same representation as men in critical
medical studies. The report said future studies should be designed
to allow analysis of data by sex.
DIFFERENT PATTERNS OF ILLNESS
The panel of experts pointed out that males and females had
different patterns of illness, lived different life spans and
responded differently to various medicines. They also said men and
women differed in their metabolism and how they stored energy.
Understanding those sex-based differences was important in
developing new approaches to disease prevention, diagnosis, and
treatment, the panel said.
"While it is anatomically obvious why only males develop prostate
cancer and only females get ovarian cancer, it is not at all obvious
why, for example, females are more likely than males to recover
language ability after suffering a left-hemisphere stroke or why
females have a far greater risk than males of developing
life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias in response to a variety of
potassium channel-blocking drugs," the report said.
Women's groups have criticized the historical male-oriented
approach to medical fact-finding.
"Now the challenge is to make sure that mechanisms are put in
place to ensure better understanding of the basic differences
between the sexes and that these differences become translated into
clinical practices," said Phyllis Greenberger, president of the
Washington-based Society for Women's Health Research. "Such measures
will benefit both women and men."
The report, which was 16 months in the making, was requested by
several federal agencies as well as corporate and private groups.
The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences,
is a private, nonprofit research organization.
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