Call for more gender-based heart research

Professor John Headrick
Professor John Headrick

In a recent article in the American Journal of Physiology, a team including Griffith Health Institute scientist Professor John Headrick has highlighted disproportionate funding for cardiovascular research focussed on males, when in certain areas it should be the other way around.

“Till now the vast majority of biomedical research, and research funding, has focussed on males – be it male patients, male animal models, or tissue sourced from males”, said Professor Headrick

“This is in part because males may exhibit more risk factors for and incidence of heart disease and diabetes earlier in life. But the fact is women are much more likely to suffer negative consequences of diabetes than men, and we really don’t know why.”

Less diabetes in women, but greater chance of dying

Current research figures say women without diabetes have a 20% less chance of developing cardiovascular disease than men, and enjoy a ten year advantage over men in developing heart disease.

However, if they develop diabetes women have a 30-35% greater chance of dying from a heart attack or heart failure than diabetic men. Compared to non-diabetic women the likelihood of dying from a heart condition rises five-fold.

“Add ageing to that situation and it’s more expensive again. Suddenly we find ourselves knowing very little about one of the leading causes of death in older women,” said Professor Headrick.

“Both the elderly and females are under-represented in clinical trials and in basic cardiovascular research, which is a real problem.”

The researchers believe much of what we have learned over the last thirty years needs to be re-examined and re-tested across sex- and age-groups to find out if previous clinical trial failures were actually just failures in specific sub-groups.