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Whether we are male or female heavily influences the prevalence, course and severity of many diseases (2017-07-06)

Sex should be a routine consideration in the design of animal research studies, results from one of the largest ever studies of the effect of sex in biomedical research suggest.

Whether we are male or female heavily influences the prevalence, course and severity of many diseases including cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and asthma, yet up until now the role of sex in animal research has not been fully explored.

For consistency, most animal research is only done on male animals.

In two-thirds of the research that uses both sexes, sex is not factored into the analysis of the results.

To address this problem, researchers at the MRC Harwell Institute, part of the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), performed one of the largest studies to date on the effect of sex in biomedical research.

The study analysed up to 234 physical characteristics in more than 50,000 mice.

Sifting through the data, the team found that in the standard group of mice – the control mice –sex had an impact on 56.6% of quantitative traits, such as body weight, and on 9.9% of qualitative traits, such as the shape of the whiskers.

In mice that had a gene switched off – the mutant mice – sex modified the effect of the mutation in 13.3 % of qualitative traits and up to 17.7 % of quantitative traits.

In many of these cases the sex of the animal was not expected to have an effect.

According to the Harwell team, the research supports the idea that - regardless of research field or biological system - sex should be an important consideration in the design and analysis of animal studies.

One of the lead researchers, the MRC Harwell Institute’s Professor Steve Brown, commented: “It is likely that important scientific information is missed by not investigating more thoroughly how males and females differ in biomedical research.

Rather than extrapolate the results to account for the opposite sex, these results suggest designing experiments to include both sexes in the study of disease.

This study is a major step to highlighting the impact of sex differences in research and will help in accounting for those differences in the future of biomedicine.”

See also
It is time that research studies reflect the differences between men and women (2017-01-04)

How Being Male or Female Can Affect Your Health (2016-06-05)

For more information
Prevalence of sexual dimorphism in mammalian phenotypic traitsopens in new window
Nature Communications

Medical Research Council MRC