Physiological differences between men and women can have a significant impact on the incidence and progression of many diseases, but to date little attention has been paid to gender-based healthcare. EU-funded researchers are working to change that with the aim of providing more targeted and effective treatments for both sexes.
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The EUGENMED project has brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, from medical associations and universities to pharmaceutical companies and policy-makers, in a landmark effort to focus attention on gender-based medicine. Over the course of two years, three partners have collaborated to produce an unprecedented body of research in Europe on how sex and gender play a role in different diseases and how treatment may need to be adjusted depending on whether the patient is a man or a woman.
Their findings are being disseminated in policy recommendations, workshops, medical school teaching materials, conferences and via a roadmap for the implementation of sex and gender-based approaches in biomedical and health research.
“Gender-based medicine is a relatively recent concept, but it is emerging as an important factor in the treatment of many different diseases which manifest differently in men and women,” explains EUGENMED coordinator Vera Regitz-Zagrosek at Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
Women have higher rates of osteoporosis, auto-immune diseases and Alzheimer’s, while men have higher rates of Parkinson’s, chronic liver disease and lung cancer. Even more significantly, a single disease can affect men and women differently, including cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, diabetes and some mental health disorders.
Same disease, different treatments?
Though these gender and sex-related differences in the incidence and manifestation of diseases have long been known, relatively little research has been carried out to understand why, and to determine whether men and women should receive different treatments, such as higher or lower doses of medication or different medications entirely.
Regitz-Zagrosek puts this down in part to the complications and additional cost of developing treatments and drugs that are gender-specific, which would require distinct clinical trials on men and women, for example. However, as the discovery of new treatments based on traditional approaches plateaus and more studies provide evidence of the impact of gender on disease, greater attention is being paid by the medical, scientific and pharmaceutical communities to gender-based healthcare.
In an effort to intensify the focus on gender-based medicine, the EUGENMED team organised four workshops and two conferences targeting doctors, medical associations, teachers, students, researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, health policy-makers, funding agencies and politicians.
“The response we received was overwhelmingly encouraging, with more than 300 participants attending each event,” the project coordinator says.
That work is being followed up with a roadmap laying out guidelines to advance the field of gender-based medicine in Europe, as well as efforts to have the subject taught in universities, possibly as a mandatory course in medical training. So far, universities in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain and Sweden are offering gender-based medicine courses.
EUGENMED’s progress is set to continue via the European Gender Health Network, which has been established by the project partners in collaboration with the International Society for Gender Medicine. The project partners are also actively seeking funding to expand their work.