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Accounting for sex differences in medicine


The key to healing men often lies in studying women first, according to a Yale expert who said that females respond differently not only to many diseases but also to therapies designed with males in mind.

“Go to the more challenging environment,” Saralyn Mark, M.D., associate professor (adjunct) of medicine and of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, urged at a talk in October sponsored by Women’s Health Research at Yale. “It’s kind of the reverse of what happened in the past, when men were the gold standard.”

Sexual differences in disease and therapy go beyond disparities in reproductive systems and size, said Mark. Most autoimmune diseases, for example, are more prevalent in females. Women may be more resistant to infection from swine flu but are harder hit when infected, especially while pregnant. Stem cells graft differently—female cells match best with female recipients, while male recipients of male cells fare the worst. Recognizing these differences could improve development of novel therapeutics.

“There have been significant advancements in the field of sex- and gender-based research, but it will require the development of public/private partnerships to translate research findings into improved clinical care for both men and women,” Mark said.