Sex and Gender Bias in Covid-19 Clinical Case Reports

The WHAM (Women’s Health Access Matters) Investigators Fund is funding research to evaluate emerging COVID-19 medical research for sex- and gender-inclusive practices. Dr. Nicole Woitowich, Associate Director for the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was awarded WHAM funding to quantify the number of COVID-19 research studies that include both men and women and analyze findings through sex and gender-based reporting as well as to identify other variables associated with sex inclusion in COVID-19 research.

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The WHAM (Women’s Health Access Matters) Investigators Fund is funding research to evaluate emerging COVID-19 medical research for sex- and gender-inclusive practices. Dr. Nicole Woitowich, Associate Director for the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, was awarded WHAM funding to quantify the number of COVID-19 research studies that include both men and women and analyze findings through sex and gender-based reporting as well as to identify other variables associated with sex inclusion in COVID-19 research.

 

This research builds upon Dr. Woitowich’s decade-long study that concluded that women are still significantly excluded in medical research. After evaluating 700 studies across nine biological research areas, Woitowich found that only 49% included both male and female subjects and only 4% provided a justification for the lack of female representation. This gross underrepresentation across the board in clinical trials and medical research hurts potential health breakthroughs that could be critical for both men and women.

 

The evidence is clear that men and women are experiencing COVID-19 differently. Men, across all age groups, ethnicities and cultures are more vulnerable to acute disease and death from COVID-19 than women. 58% of the cases are male, and the death rate in China is between 2.8%-4.7% in men versus 1.7% – 2.8% in women. This difference was also true and measurable in the two previous Coronavirus outbreaks of SARS and MERS.

 

Dr. Woitowich’s work has the potential to identify key areas of strength and weakness in experimental rigor and reproducibility within the expanding body of COVID-19-related research and establish best practices. Through this grant, Woitowich will quantify the number of COVID-19 research studies which are sex-inclusive and incorporate sex and gender into their analysis. In addition, Dr. Woitowich will also identify other variables associated with sex-inclusion and sex- and gender-based analysis in COVID-19 research, such as biomedical discipline, author gender, and country-of-origin.

 

“Attention to sex and gender differences for COVID-19 risks, trajectories and outcomes from the start of this pandemic will produce a more valuable and complete evidence-base” noted Chloe E. Bird, Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Forum at the RAND Corporation. “The alternative is to follow the limited path of prior clinical research—late consideration of the potential for differences, allowing mistaken and potentially deadly misunderstandings based on one-size fits all assumptions that ignore significant social and biological differences that shape men’s and women’s outcomes.”

 

While much of the work in the biomedical community focuses on developing breakthrough therapies and treatments for COVID-19, this work is crucial for ensuring the research community establishes a complete understanding of the disease. Dr. Woitowich’s research will identify the research gaps in the study of this novel disease, particularly as it relates to sex inclusion. Her findings will be used to advocate for and promote best practices to improve COVID-19 research and ensure the therapies developed will benefit everyone. With the vast resources and attention devoted to COVID-19, Dr. Woitowich’s work is imperative to guaranteeing that breakthroughs are meaningful and create positive outcomes for women patients.

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Sex and Gender Bias in Covid-19 Clinical Case Reports

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