Sex and Gender in Biomedical Research

(2015-09-17) Since the early 2000s, there has been a growing recognition by the research community that the sex of cells, tissues, animals, and humans matter in biomedical and translational science. Every cell has a sex, with sex differences beginning at conception and varying along the lifecycle.

When sex is taken into account, it improves the reproducibility of research findings and increases scientific rigor by allowing for results to be generalizable to both men and women. When sex is not taken into account, important effects may be missed.

Failure to consider sex in biomedical or translational research has come at the cost of human lives. This was the case with several drugs that required the addition of Health Canada warnings or were removed from the market due to fatal effects in one sex or the other.

Despite the importance of sex and gender considerations in biomedical research, many biomedical researchers have not yet fully explored the potential for discovery by taking sex and gender into account.

Free Online Course

Supporting the aim of the Catalyst Grant: Sex as a Variable in Biomedical or Translational Research funding opportunity, the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health (CIHR-IGH) has developed a free online course, which examines how sex can be integrated into biomedical research at every stage of the research project. 

Did you know?

  • Chronic pain hypersensitivity is mediated by microglial cells in male mice and by a completely different type of immune cell, likely T-cells, in female mice?Footnote 1
    Could you be missing an important sex difference by excluding female cells and animals from your research?
  • The X-chromosome has 1,669 genes and the Y-chromosome only 426. Only 33% of Genome Wide Association Studies include the X-chromosome.Footnote 2
    Does that make sense?
  • Many funding organizations around the world require the integration of sex/gender considerations at all stages of the research process.
    Will your research be left behind?
  • More and more scientific journals are changing their editorial policies to require that the sex/gender of research cells, tissues, animals and human participants be reported.
    Could not accounting for sex/gender make it more difficult for you to publish?
  • Sex differences in pharmacokinetics are leading drug safety organizations to recommend halving the dose of certain medications for women.
    Is your research measuring these differences?

Take this training course to learn how to:

  • Distinguish between and define sex and gender in biomedical research;
  • Identify sex/gender differences in the mechanism, disease, or treatment under study;
  • Assess a research protocol based on the integration or omission of sex and/or gender.


Footnote 1

R.E. Sorge et al., "Different immune cells mediate mechanical pain hypersensitivity in male and female mice", Nature Neuroscience doi: 10.1038/nn.4053, 2015


Footnote 2

Wise, A.L., Gyi, L., & Manolio, T.A. (2013). eXclusion: Toward integrating the X chromosome in Genome-wide association analysis. American Society of Human Genetics, 92: 643-647


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