The National Institutes of Health will soon begin requiring scientists to test new drugs on both male and female animals. Researchers now tend to use mostly male animals in pre-clinical tests, even for drugs that will also be used by women.
But that has had some major consequences for women.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks to Dr. Janine Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health, about why the gender of research animals matters, and the new requirements NIH is going to be phasing in for scientists.
Interview Highlights: Janine Clayton
On why scientists typically use male animals
"I think part of it is really — not intentionally, but really, that it is a blind-spot. Some people think that using female animals is more difficult because of female hormonal cycling. But we've shown, others have shown, and in that analyses, a collection of studies, that that is just not true. They actually looked at male and female animals and found that the female animals were no more variable than the male animals, and in fact, the males were more variable than the females in some important ways."
On the importance of researching drug effects on females
"There really can be big differences, and we've seen that, for example, with aspirin, which helps to prevent heart attacks in men, but is helpful for stroke prevention in women. And we see that in nicotine patches, for example, that work much more effectively in men than women. So we do know there are differences. Despite that, our pre-clinical research, that research that tests things before they go into the clinic, we just see many, many more male animals than female animals being used."
On criticism that the new research is too expensive
"I would say that we're either gonna pay now, or we're gonna pay later, and really, our best money spent is on the most optimal experimental design. And we're about funding the best science possible, and rigor and excellence and high-quality research is what NIH is about."
This segment aired on May 20, 2014.