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Reuters Top Science and Health News

  A Person's 'Sex Does Matter,' Report Finds
Apr 24 2001 6:38PM

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 does matter."

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.


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.

Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similiar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL Anywhere.

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