Friday, September 6, 2013

Male & Female Healthcare

Ask any adult (or child for that matter) to enumerate differences between males and females and they would have little trouble coming up with a sizable list.  Of course, most of those differences would be superficial, relating to anatomy, clothing, behavior and other socially-evident traits.

In fact, the differences between men and women extend to the level of cellular functioning.  Yesterday, I attended a conference that focused on microvascular differences between males and females, including the reactivity and permeability of small blood vessels in response to various agents.  As it turns out, a significant difference exists in many cases and does not always relate to the presence or absence of sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen); indeed, some cellular functioning appears to be influenced by the genome itself, which affects the level and or sensitivity of various chemical mediators.  To further complicate the picture, these gender differences are often organ specific; for example, a difference may occur in the kidneys but not in the heart muscle (or vice versa).

These facts might be dismissed as scientific mumbo-jumbo by the general public but they are highly significant when it comes to healthcare.  Since most studies on the benefits and side-effects of medications are conducted on male populations (prisoners or impoverished young males, for example), the conclusions drawn may not apply to the female population.  Yet, an assumption is often made that males and females respond to a certain drug in the same manner and that the pathophysiology of a given disease is independent of gender.  As modern research is beginning to reveal, that is often not the case and gender specific therapies may be indicated.  Whether fiscally-minded governments and profit-focused drug companies acknowledge the need for such research remains to be seen.