New study from Dr. Nicole Woitowich finds sex and gender biases in COVID-19 case reports, builds on decades of research on influences of biases in biomedicine.
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Contact: Caroline Ahearn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greenwich, CT (November 22, 2021) – A new report funded by WHAM (Women’s Health Access Matters) evaluated emerging COVID-19 medical research for sex- and gender-inclusive practices, found potential biases in the dissemination of clinical information via case reports, and underscores the inextricable influences of sex and gender biases within biomedicine.
The report, “Sex and Gender Bias in COVID-19 Clinical Case Reports,” was conducted by Dr. Nicole Woitowich, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Executive Director of the WHAM Collaborative and published today in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health.
“As WHAM’s first investment in COVID-19 research, Dr. Woitowich’s work is imperative to guaranteeing that breakthroughs in studying this disease are meaningful and create positive outcomes for everyone – men and women,” said Carolee Lee, Founder and CEO of WHAM. “The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized what we have been focusing on since our founding – the economic and health implications of ignoring disparities in medical research are enormous.”
This research builds upon Dr. Woitowich’s prior research that concluded that women are still significantly excluded in medical research and highlights that in COVID-19 research sex or gender biases are contributing factors that impact patient reporting. As Executive Director of the WHAM Collaborative, Dr. Woitowich works with researchers at leading institutions across disease areas to advance biomedical research focused on sex and gender differences in order to better understand women’s health.
“When sex as a biological variable is not included in research, it leaves valuable knowledge on the table,” said Dr. Nicole Woitowich, lead author of the report and Executive Director of the WHAM Collaborative. “WHAM understands what kind of impact sex differences and gender biases can have on medicine and on the economy.”
Funding for this study was provided by the WHAM Investigators Fund, which makes awards for cutting-edge research that focuses on sex and gender differences. Through the WHAM Collaborative, led by Dr. Woitowich, WHAM brings together researchers and clinicians from leading institutions focused on women’s health. WHAM recently released a data-driven study, The WHAM Report, that quantifies the economic and social impacts of investing in health research focused on women. The WHAM Report found that across disease areas that impact women differently and differentially, very little current research focuses specifically on women and that increasing investments focused on women’s health yields large economic and health returns that benefit both men and women.
Dr. Woitowich’s study analyzed 494 COVID-19 case reports. Of the patients described, 45% were male and 30% were female, patients of both sexes were included in 25% of case reports, and 0.6% failed to report patient sex. The study showed an association between author gender and patient sex that suggests that sex or gender biases are contributing factors which impact patient reporting.
“It is important to recognize that sex and gender biases, which have plagued biomedicine for decades, continue to persist,” says Woitowich. “Case reports are a key component of medical education and if the majority of reports focus solely on men, we miss out on important clinical information relevant to women, transgender, gender non-binary or non-conforming individuals.”
These findings provide a foundation to advocate for and promote best practices to improve COVID-19 research and ensure the therapies developed will benefit everyone. The study shows that better-coordinated efforts by clinicians, reviewers, editors, and publishers would help ensure a balanced representation of patient populations. As WHAM works with research institutions to accelerate women’s health research, this kind of coordination will become a recommended best practice for improving sex and gender research inclusion.
The WHAM Investigator’s Fund has also funded research that identifies novel pathways that contribute to heart disease in women being conducted by Dr. Michelle O’Donoghue from the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard University, as well as research to examine whether sleep improvements in women lead to lower Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) risk biomarkers being conducted by Dr. Hilary Blumberg from the Blumberg Lab at Yale University.
About WHAM (Women’s Health Access Matters)
Women’s health is an economic issue we can’t afford to ignore. WHAM works to increase awareness of and funding for women’s health research by accelerating scientific discovery in women’s health in four primary disease verticals – autoimmune disease, brain health, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The WHAM Report quantifies the economic opportunity for investing in women’s health, looking across diseases that impact women differently and differentially, including coronary artery disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more at www.thewhamreport.org and www.whamnow.org.
About Dr. Nicole Woitowich
Dr. Nicole Woitowich is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She is actively transforming the landscape of women’s health through her research, advocacy, and outreach activities. She implements programming which informs the scientific and medical communities, as well as the public, about the influences of sex and gender on health and disease.