More researchers submitting applications to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) are including sex and gender considerations in their proposals, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The study was co-authored by Dr. Joy Johnson, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health (IGH).
Johnson and her colleagues examined the effect of a mandatory requirement introduced by CIHR in 2010 in which researchers were asked to reply to questions regarding the consideration of sex and gender factors in their proposals. The results showed 48% of applicants responded affirmatively in December 2011, compared to 26% in December 2010. This trend varied by discipline, with biomedical researchers being least likely to account for sex and gender, clinical researchers being most likely to account for sex and population health researchers being most likely to account for gender.
Since 1993, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act has required inclusion of women and minorities in clinical research as a condition of funding. In 2009, CIHR signed the Government of Canada's Health Portfolio—Sex and Gender-Based Analysis Policy. In 2010, CIHR made a change to its grant application forms, requiring that all applicants respond to two questions: Are sex (biological) considerations taken into account in this study, and are gender (socio-cultural) considerations taken into account in this study? CIHR currently is developing a suite of training materials on sex and gender for health researchers and peer reviewers.
Research that fails to account for sex and gender can result in costly knowledge gaps. Integrating the concepts of sex and gender in research makes it possible to produce more accurate, effective and relevant findings to inform the development of drugs, treatments and health interventions that apply equally to both men and women.
The study's results suggest that mandatory questions are one way of encouraging the uptake of sex and gender in health research; however, there remain persistent disparities across disciplines. These disparities represent opportunities for policy intervention by health research funders. CIHR currently is developing a suite of training materials on sex and gender for health researchers and peer reviewers, building on past initiatives such as the IGH gender, sex and health research casebook.
"CIHR has been actively encouraging researchers to incorporate a sex and gender perspective in their health research, with the ultimate goal of improving the health of all Canadians. This study demonstrates that funding agencies can play an important role in designing strategies and policies that put sex and gender on the health research agenda to shape better science. It's essential to identify gaps in inclusion, analysis and reporting of sex and gender in health research, so that we can provide the appropriate health services to both men and women. Funding agencies can help educate applicants, peer reviewers and agency staff about the importance of sex and gender," said Dr. Jane Aubin, chief scientific officer and vice president, Research and Knowledge Translation at CIHR
Johnson said, "The integration of sex and gender in health research is reaching a tipping point. Researchers are beginning to see the tremendous value in conducting research from a sex and gender perspective. It makes our science more rigorous and will promote the translation of our findings into treatments and interventions that are better for everyone, men and women alike. Canada has established itself as a leader in this area, but our analysis is a reminder that our work is not done. Integrating sex and gender in untapped areas of health research—particularly biomedicine—presents unprecedented opportunities for innovation and impact on the health and well-being of all Canadians."