Project shows benefits of applying sex and gender analysis in research

July 27, 2012 By Kathleen J. Sullivan
Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering at Stanford University 'was created through a unique international collaboration of scientists, engineers and gender experts,' said Founder and Director Londa Schiebinger. Credit: L.A. Cicero

In the United States and Europe, osteoporosis is considered primarily a "woman's disease" and men are rarely evaluated for the condition, which causes bones to become weak and brittle, and increases the risk of wrist, hip and spine fractures.

Yet recent research has shown that nearly one-third of American and European men will experience a linked to the .

So it's actually a "man's disease" too, says Londa Schiebinger, founder and director of Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering, citing the findings of the project's case study, Osteoporosis Research in Men: Rethinking Standards and Reference Models.

While gender bias had long obscured the plight of men who were silently suffering from osteoporosis, shining the light of sex and gender analysis on the problem led to better ways to evaluate their fracture risks, she said.

"We reviewed the existing research on osteoporosis and identified how applying sophisticated methods of sex and gender analysis improved the science and led to a new conception of the disease," said Schiebinger, the John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford.

Future advances aim at preventing, diagnosing and treating in men,  which strikes them in their 70s, about 10 years later than women, and could help improve – and prolong – the lives of elderly men.

"When men break their hips they don't survive as well as women do – and no one yet knows why," Schiebinger said.

Case studies available

Since Schiebinger launched the Gendered Innovations project in the summer of 2009, the project has produced 14 case studies to demonstrate how applying sex and gender analysis to research studies has helped create new knowledge and technologies.

The project was initiated with start-up funding from Stanford's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. Schiebinger, a former director of the Clayman Institute, is the editor of the 2008 book, Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering.

All the project's peer-reviewed case studies can be found on its website, including:

• Stem Cells: Analyzing Sex
• Animal Research: Designing Health and Biomedical Research
• De-Gendering the Knee: Overemphasizing Sex Differences as a Problem
• Heart Disease in Women: Formulating Research Questions
• Pregnant Crash Test Dummies: Rethinking Standards and Reference Models
• Water: Participatory Research and Design

"The website is a resource for researchers," Schiebinger said. "It's globally accessible and freely available to anyone with an Internet connection.

An international cast of contributors

The Gendered Innovations project was developed through six international workshops. In 2011, the European Union joined the project, followed by the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2012.

"The project was created through a unique international collaboration of scientists, engineers and gender experts," Schiebinger said.

The first workshop was held at Stanford in 2011 and the seventh – and last – will be held in September in Brussels, at the headquarters of the European Commission.

Last week, Schiebinger traveled to Harvard University for a two-day workshop focused on three new case studies – on brain research, robots for the elderly and natural language processing.

There, she met her three co-directors – professors of gender medicine, urban planning and engineering from universities in The Netherlands, Madrid and Berlin – as well as 18 invited experts from across the and , including a research scientist at Google Inc. and Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford.

"These workshops are exhilarating," Shiebinger said. "We bring technical experts – from completely unrelated fields – into conversation for interdisciplinary exploration.  We attempt to capture for our website users the 'ah-ah' moments these workshops produce."

State-of-the-art methods

The project has developed 11 methods of sex and gender analysis – also peer-reviewed – as a research roadmap for scientists and engineers. Schiebinger said new methods will be developed and added to the website as circumstances change.

"Researchers will want to consider all methods and think creatively about how these methods can enhance their own research," she said. "Our message is that researchers need to design sex and gender analysis into their project from the very beginning."

She said research has shown that sex and gender bias can be harmful and expensive.

"Between 1997 and 2000, 10 drugs were withdrawn from the U.S. market because of life-threatening health effects, and eight of them had more severe side effects in women," she said. "Developing those drugs cost billions of dollars and inestimable human suffering and death. So we have a very strong reason to be looking at sex and gender differences in medicine."

Schiebinger said the same is true for technology.

'Technologies – whether crash-test dummies, synthetic speech or assistive technologies – should provide equally safe, useful, and aesthetically pleasing results for both men and women of differing ages and cultural backgrounds," she said.

"Overall, the Gendered project demonstrates that considering sex and gender in the "discovery" phase of a enhances creativity and excellence in science and engineering."

Explore further: Women, men and the bedroom

Related Stories

Women, men and the bedroom

October 14, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In the racy television hit show, Sex and the City, Carrie, one of the main characters tells her best girlfriends that "Men who are too good looking are never good in bed because they never had to be." ...

Time trends in STEMI -- improved treatment and outcome but gender gap persists

August 29, 2011
In spite of an increased attention to gender differences in treatment of myocardial infarctions, focus on adherence to guidelines and a change in predominant therapy, the gender difference in treatment and mortality regarding ...

Metabolomics as a basis for gender-specific drugs

August 11, 2011
Analyses of the metabolic profile of blood serum have revealed significant differences in metabolites between men and women. In a study to be published on August 11 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, scientists at ...

Recommended for you

'Human chronobiome' study informs timing of drug delivery, precision medicine approaches

December 13, 2017
Symptoms and efficacy of medications—and indeed, many aspects of the human body itself—vary by time of day. Physicians tell patients to take their statins at bedtime because the related liver enzymes are more active during ...

Estrogen discovery could shed new light on fertility problems

December 12, 2017
Estrogen produced in the brain is necessary for ovulation in monkeys, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who have upended the traditional understanding of the hormonal cascade that leads to release ...

Time of day affects severity of autoimmune disease

December 12, 2017
Insights into how the body clock and time of day influence immune responses are revealed today in a study published in leading international journal Nature Communications. Understanding the effect of the interplay between ...

3-D printed microfibers could provide structure for artificially grown body parts

December 12, 2017
Much as a frame provides structural support for a house and the chassis provides strength and shape for a car, a team of Penn State engineers believe they have a way to create the structural framework for growing living tissue ...

Team identifies DNA element that may cause rare movement disorder

December 11, 2017
A team of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers has identified a specific genetic change that may be the cause of a rare but severe neurological disorder called X-linked dystonia parkinsonism (XDP). Occurring only ...

Protein Daple coordinates single-cell and organ-wide directionality in the inner ear

December 11, 2017
Humans inherited the capacity to hear sounds thanks to structures that evolved millions of years ago. Sensory "hair cells" in the inner ear have the amazing ability to convert sound waves into electrical signals and transmit ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Howard_Vickridge
not rated yet Jul 27, 2012
Say What? How can sex and gender be conflated? Sex is biologically determined, and not always binary. Gender is a social construct. Or am I missing something here?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.