Leading physicians and researchers from across the country congregated in Washington to share new findings and groundbreaking studies in sex-differences research. The conference covered pain and the musculoskeletal system, the brain, the immune system, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), cardiovascular disease and therapeutics, and obesity and comorbidities. These topic areas featured speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and institutions that enriched the dialogue throughout the day.
Highlighting the most recent research on sex and gender differences in knee osteoarthritis, Mary O’Connor, M.D., chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, engaged the audience with information on physician bias and whether or not discrimination against women is unconscious or overt. In fact, physicians tend overwhelmingly to recommend men for surgery but not women, even when presented with the same symptoms and conditions. O’Connor shared “that despite identical clinical information, the presentation style of male and female patients may have differed due to the fact women are more narrative, personal and open while men are more business-like, factual and reserved.”
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, one of the more taboo subjects of the conference but arguably the most dynamic presentation, was given by leading researcher Sheryl Kingsberg, Ph.D., professor of Reproductive Biology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and chief of the Division of Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “There are many models of the human sexual response, not one being all encompassing,” said Kingsberg. “Because of this, the estimated 43% of all women who experience some sexual dysfunction in their lifetime have a variety of treatment options to follow.”
One of the most important panels of the day was Reducing Cardiovascular Disease in Women – We’ve Come a Long Way Baby but We’re Not There Yet, presented by Virginia Miller, MBA, Ph.D., professor of Surgery and Physiology, College of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and President of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD).
Miller included unpublished data on cardiovascular disease mortality trends noting the number of deaths from heart disease appears to be declining, the disparity between women and men remains high. Heart disease is still the number one killer of women, yet clinical trials do not support this fact. In a 2010 study of affected patient populations and inclusion in randomized clinical trials of cardiovascular disease prevention, women comprised 51% of the patient population for heart failure, but only 29% of the trial; women were also 46% of the coronary artery disease population, but only 25% of the clinical trial and so on.
“We’re not there yet,” said Miller. We need age and sex specific animals in preclinical studies, research into sex differences, integration of basic and clinical scientists, sex specific reporting in clinical trials, and more women in clinical trials.
The X Conference is a major step towards bridging the research gap on biology-based diseases and bringing together the top researchers in the sex-based biology field to share their new data. Sex differences research needs to be a top priority in both private and public research. Because in the end, it’s all about the chromosomes.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), a national non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., is widely recognized as the thought leader in women’s health research, particularly how sex differences impact health. SWHR’s mission is to improve the health of all women through advocacy, education and research. Visit SWHR’s website at swhr.org for more information.
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