For anyone who has ever wondered why XXY’s are continually compared with XY males across all clinical trials, then wonder no more. From the very limited research that has been undertaken, it’s well established that XX & XXY brains differ from those that are XY, which then raises an obvious question of why it’s long been presumed our brains would function at their optimal best when saturated with testosterone? Like XX females our differences are not limited to that one area alone but are multi faceted and seen throughout the entire body. Hopefully, just hopefully as XX research gains traction those differences will become more apparent, leading to XXY’s being treated as individuals in place of someone’s idea of what it means to be human.
The negative impact of this unquestioned assumption on the status of women is beyond measure, but an artfully written perspective piece in Science by Dr. Rebecca Shansky, Associate Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, shines a light on a dark corner of unintended harm, the exclusion of female subjects in neuroscience research.
In 1993, in an effort to improve health across the board, Congress mandated that all NIH clinical trials include women or give darn good reasons why not. Did it work? Yes and no. The inclusion of women in clinical trials research increased, often to parity with men. But there were two simmering problems. First was the mandate did not include a provision that the data be analyzed for any influence of gender. Thus, while thousands of studies dutifully reported the percent of male and female subjects, that was often the end of it, with the tacit assumption that there was no difference in men and women in whatever parameter was being measured in response to whatever treatment. An egregious case of leaving data on the table, but at least women were in the mix.
Far more insidious and unrecognized for more than 20 years is the fact that the fairness mandate had not trickled down to scientists working at the bench conducting research on animals and cell lines. Not only were bench scientists not getting the message, in the case of neuroscience there was a concerted effort to exclude female subjects, mostly rats and mice, from studies of the brain. Just how bad things had gotten was revealed in an impactful report by Irving Zucker, a Professor of the Graduate School in the departments of Psychology and Integrative Biology at UC-Berkley, who, working with a trainee at the time and now an Associate Professor of Psychology at Smith, Dr. Annaliesse Beery, analyzed publications that used animals for research across a wide range of fields (i.e. immunology, endocrinology, behavior etc.), and found there was a tremendous skewing in the representation of the sexes in basic research but that neuroscience was the worst offender, with almost six times as many studies exclusively using male animals.