Investigating the presence of sex bias in human surgical clinical research

In a study published in JAMA Surgery, Melina Kibbe, MD, Zach D. Owens Professor and Chair, Department of Surgery, and colleagues found that few human surgical clinical research studies included men and women equally.

Investigating the presence of sex bias in human surgical clinical research click to enlarge Melina Kibbe, MD

The researchers studied more than 1,300 peer reviewed articles and found that few studies included men and women in equal numbers, less than one third performed data analysis by sex, and a wide variation was present in inclusion and matching of the sexes among the various surgical specialties and journals reviewed.

Of the 1,303 articles reviewed by the researchers, 17 included males only, 41 included females only, 1,020 included males and females, and 225 did not document the sex of the participants. Although female participants represented more than 50 percent of the total number of research subjects included across all reviewed studies, the researchers reported considerable variability with the number of male, female, and unspecified participants included among the journals, between domestic and international studies, and between single and multicenter studies.

The fact that men and women can experience different postoperative outcomes, complication rates, and readmission rates, underscores the potential impact of sex bias in the clinical research that forms the foundation of evidence-based medicine.

Kibbe says she hopes these results will raise awareness of sex bias among patients, physicians, scientists, and policymakers, and lead to the development of guidelines to ensure both sexes are studied equally and research results include discussion and analysis of any differences that exist between men and women.

This study is an extension of Kibbe’s earlier work, which found that the sex of cells or animals is often not reported in basic and translational research. 

Read the full press announcement from JAMA Surgery here.

Kibbe joined the UNC School of Medicine faculty in July from Northwestern University. This research was conducted with colleagues at Northwestern. To read more about Dr. Kibbe, click here.

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