Women are seriously under-represented in many areas of medical research studies, say researchers at the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health ahead of International Clinical Trials day tomorrow.
Studies often concentrate on diseases and treatments in men. But the trend needs to change, according to the Foundation’s director of research, Professor Helena Teede, with women making up 50.6 per cent of the Australian population.
“The importance of medical research in women cannot be over-emphasised,” says Professor Teede, who says diseases often manifest differently in women and treatment effects can also be different in women.
“It’s not just the reproductive system that makes women’s bodies and medical needs different,” she says. “Women are more likely to suffer from depression and sleep issues, they have different responses to some medications and show different symptoms and responses to heart attacks, to note only a few examples.”
“Volunteer participants play a crucial role in the study of disease and the development of treatments,” she says. “We’ve made great advances in women’s health over the last 15 years, but much work remains to be done and each of us can play a role, whether we are sick or healthy.”
“Patients often receive closer scrutiny by their doctors and can benefit from participating in a trial directly. But even if the treatment doesn’t impact on their own health, participants know they are helping generations of younger women.”
As well as offering clinical care and education programs to women across the country, the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health conducts internationally-recognised, practical and applied medical research – each study relying on volunteer participation to get results.
One participant, Fiona, who took part in a recent Foundation exercise trial for women with polycystic ovary syndrome says: “Taking part in research is the only way that medicine can go forward. Lab work and animal tests can only go so far in trying to predict what works.”
“It was a rewarding activity and I thoroughly enjoyed knowing my efforts will be helping others in my situation,” she said.
Fiona suffers from a medical condition that is often misdiagnosed and for which there are inadequate treatments.
“It is only through research that we can improve care,” says Professor Teede. “Thanks to selfless women like Fiona, we are making progress. But we need other women, even those 65 and older, to participate in medical research.”
People aged over 65 make up 13 per cent of Australia’s population. Women are living longer lives, but not necessarily enjoying good health. Older women often live with higher rates of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Yet much of what we know about those diseases has come from studies of men younger than 70.
Women are invited to find out more or to register their interest to volunteer at www.jeanhailes.org.au or by calling (03) 9543 9463.
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