Equality in Scientific Research
Q: The national plea for equality has made me think about equality in a new way. Recently, I had a bad reaction to a medication. My nephew, in graduate school, did some research and discovered that it had only been tested on males—so how it would impact females was unknown. I think that is inequality for women regardless of their skin tones. What do you know about this? Equality needs to be recognized for all races and skin tones and gender—PLUS I think it is a much larger problem than that. Please comment.
A: It has been traditional to use male subjects (whether mouse, rat, monkey, or human) because, as one male researcher put it, the fluctuations of hormones in a female would clutter up the conclusions. I responded by saying that this was precisely the reason females need to be used as research subjects at least equally with males (by later adulthood females tend to outnumber males). My brain’s opinion is that it represents inequality in research. How do medications and treatments impact a female with her fluctuations of hormones, as he put it? Very differently if anecdotal reports are representative.
A neuroscientist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine I Aurora, Colorado, was doing studies with mice. She was surprised, so the story goes, to notice that the brains of some female mice who had Down Syndrome (a defect involving chromosome 21), evidenced some unexpected abnormalities. She already knew that the brains of trisomic male mice (with Down Syndrome) showed changes in their hippocampus related to protein levels. These female mice, however, showed the most serious changes in their cerebellums. Mice and rats have similarities to the human brain. Therefore, findings in these rodents often lead to potential correlations with human brains. Gardener has been quoted as saying, “If we find that males or females are differing not only in their baseline impairment, but in their response to drugs, we need to know that. We could be missing a big piece of information that could lead to better or different clinical trials.” So, if male mice had changes in their hippocampus (the brain’s search engine), and female mice had more significant changes in their cerebellum, this potentially could have implications for humans with Down Syndrome.