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How Women Are Underrepresented In Clinical Trials

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When any drug comes on the market, consumers are assured that the pills they're about to pop in their mouths are safe, all thanks to the strict clinical trials and testing the drugs have to go though to get passed by the FDA.

However there's one glaring problem. Many of these clinical trials that show the drugs are safe exclude women from the testing process, meaning that pill you're about to take for your arthritis or your heart-condition has been proven to be safe for your husband or your brother, but not necessarily for you. 

In the past, the exclusion of women from clinical trials was done to protect women in the childbearing age range from experimental risks affecting them and their potential offspring. However, that means we don't fully know the potential risks some drugs may pose to women, simply because they've never been tested.

This also means that many clinical trials have relied on the assumption that male and female bodies will react and metabolize the drugs being tested in the same way—something that science has already shown to be false. It's long been known that in instances such as drinking alcohol, the different hormones found in men and women affect how the ethanol in the drink is metabolized and that woman are more susceptible to ethanol's toxic effects. So besides the assumptions being made in these trials just being bad science, they can be potentially harmful to females everywhere. 

Research into gender disparity in trials shows that even though woman make up 51 percent of the United States' population, they're rarely make up more than 40 percent of participants in clinical trials. And of those select few who do make it, on average only 20 percent of participants are non-white. 

Some specific clinical testing data that is especially disheartening, comes from the field of HIV research. Despite the fact that half of the cases of HIV in the world belong to women, only 11 percent of clinical trial participants are female. Risks and cures for females are potentially being ignored, simply because of the gender imbalance in these trials. 

WomenHealthDisparities clinicaltrialsPhoto Credit: The Huffington Post

This problem even extends all the way down to animal trials. Female animals are often not used for reasons such as female's bodies being more variable due to reproductive cycles—a false notion.

WomenHealthDisparities animaltrialsPhoto Credit: The Huffington Post

Although gender inequality in clinical trials and research is still shockingly common, there is some hope on the horizon thanks to those who've pointed out the disparity. The National Institutes of Health announced a new policy in May that requires any preclinical research they fund to include both males and females. 

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