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Sex bias exists in basic science and translational surgical research

      Background

      Although the Revitalization Act was passed in 1993 to increase enrollment of women in clinical trials, there has been little focus on sex disparity in basic and translational research. We hypothesize that sex bias exists in surgical biomedical research.

      Methods

      Manuscripts from Annals of Surgery, American Journal of Surgery, JAMA Surgery, Journal of Surgical Research, and Surgery from 2011 to 2012 were reviewed. Data abstracted included study type, sex of the animal or cell studied, location, and presence of sex-based reporting of data.

      Results

      Of 2,347 articles reviewed, 618 included animals and/or cells. For animal research, 22% of the publications did not specify the sex of the animals. Of the reports that did specify the sex, 80% of publications included only males, 17% only females, and 3% both sexes. A greater disparity existed in the number of animals studied: 16,152 (84%) male and 3,173 (16%) female (P < .0001). For cell research, 76% of the publications did not specify the sex. Of the papers that did specify the sex, 71% of publications included only males, 21% only females, and 7% both sexes. Only 7 (1%) studies reported sex-based results. For publications on female-prevalent diseases, 44% did not report the sex studied. Of those reports that specified the sex, only 12% studied female animals. More international than national (ie, United States) publications studied only males (85% vs 71%, P = .004), whereas more national publications did not specify the sex (47% vs 20%, P < .0001). A subanalysis of a single journal showed that across three decades, the number of male-only studies and usage of male animals has become more disparate over time.

      Conclusion

      Sex bias, be it overt, inadvertent, situational, financial, or ignorant, exists in surgical biomedical research. Because biomedical research serves as the foundation for subsequent clinical research and medical decision-making, it is imperative that this disparity be addressed because conclusions derived from such studies may be specific to only one sex.
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      Linked Article

      • Message from the Editors
        SurgeryVol. 156Issue 3
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          Much of our current understanding of physiology and cell biology is based on work in animals and established cell lines, but what if certain physiologic responses or intracellular mechanisms are specific to the sex of the animal or the sexual genome of that specific cell line? As many physiologists appreciate, certain animal experiments are easier to perform in either male or female animals; some animals are more readily available as the male or female sex. Cell lines may have a certain phenotype of interest, for example, malignancy, but has the genome of these cell lines arisen from a single “donor” and thereafter cloned many, many times, for instance, the HeLa cells? What if the donor was a male or a female? Does the genomic programming (not the phenotype but rather the genotype) affect intracellular signaling, mitochondrial function, cell-surface expression of certain receptors, immune response, etc.
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      • The ladies need more attention
        SurgeryVol. 156Issue 3
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          Girls and boys are different. The accompanying article1 details meticulously, in scientifically unassailable fashion, the embarrassing flaw in generations of scientific inquiry that male cells, male animals, and male patients have been overrepresented disproportionately in scientific research. It is difficult to condone this obvious oversight. An acknowledgedly staid and traditional Victorian man like Charles Darwin might reason that the evolutionary conservation of fundamental proteins like phosphatases and kinases confirm the similarities in the cellular machinery as divergent as drosophila, mice, monkeys, and men (and women).
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      • Invisible
        SurgeryVol. 156Issue 3
        • Preview
          The article “Sex Bias Exists in Basic Science and Translational Surgical Research,” by Yoon et al identifies a major problem of sex bias in biomedical research. This disparity has overarching implications because the results from such studies, similar to the results from other clinical trial studies performed without an adequate number of women, could be erroneous if applied to women patients in a similar manner as men. The authors describe many causes for such lack of reporting and use of female cell lines and animals—overt, inadvertent, situational, financial, or just plain ignorance—but maintain that now with the recent announcement by the National Institutes of Health of the requirement to describe the plan for the use of both sexes when doing preclinical animal research—and their call to arms of other funding agencies to do the same and to include the sex of the cell line as well—that perhaps the situation will slowly but surely be rectified.
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      • Commentary on “Sex bias exists in basic science and translational surgical research”
        SurgeryVol. 157Issue 3
        • Preview
          We commend the journal Surgery for the publication of “Sex bias exists in basic science and translational surgical research”1 and the three accompanying editorials.2-4 The articles highlight 2 important areas of concern with respect to gender disparities in surgery: Inclusion of female participants as subjects, both human and nonhuman, and the gender gap in academic surgery.
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