Expert: Women’s Equality in Medical Research

When it comes to Women’s Equality Day, your first thought is probably equal pay or fair treatment in the workplace. While these are incredibly important causes in our fight for equality, we should also consider equality in health care, starting with equal representation in biomedical research. Unfortunately, women, especially those who belong to minority communities, are less likely to be included in clinical trials then men in the United States.

This becomes particularly important when you consider scientific assessments that every cell in the body has a sex, meaning the biological difference between men and women breaks down to a micro level. Without adequate research on the differences between genders, we cannot fully understand how and why diseases, treatments, and medicines might affect them differently.

For example, women are more likely to die after a heart attack than men. We do not fully understand why this disparity exists and, without comprehensive research, we will not be able to identify and solve the root of the problem. In fact, health disparities are often even worse for women of color. Even though black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a 10% lower rate than white women, they are 41% more likely to die from it.

The All of Us Research Program is a health research program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that aims to enroll over one million individuals that reflect the true diversity of the United States. There is a general belief within the medical community that factors such as ethnicity, sex and gender, age, lifestyle, and occupation can impact the way we respond to treatment and medicine. Therefore, in order to develop more effective, tailored treatments for everyone, we need to base medical research on data that considers all of these factors in everyone.

All of Us aims to have 75% participation from communities that have been underrepresented in biomedical research (UBR) and 50% from racial and ethnic minority groups. As communities all over the country donate their health data, we can develop a rich repository of information that will help researchers speed up medical breakthroughs and improve personalized treatment. Just over one year in, All of Us has enrolled more than 180,000 individuals in the program, over 80% of whom represent UBR communities, thus the program is currently exceeding its diversity goal.

Since its inception in 1940, the Community Council of Greater Dallas has strived to provide aid to those in need. Through the use of hard data and research, the Community Council decides how to best implement new prevention and treatment strategies that benefit the community and strives for equality throughout the greater Dallas area. However, in many cases the available data is insufficient. We want to ensure that we have the tools to provide the best guidance and care for our community, without fear that the science is tailored only to a select few. In order to do this, we’re collaborating with All of Us through a program called the Community Provider Gateway Initiative, in which we help build trust and educate our community about the importance of research participation.

This research program is not only exciting for us as individuals who are concerned about our own health but the benefits that our children will inherit for generations to come. With unprecedented access to valuable and extensive data, scientists will be able to conduct their research more quickly and effectively, resulting in more medical breakthroughs, personalized treatment for all of us, and allowing for communities that have been neglected by medical research, like women, to be included.

Health informatics is the interdisciplinary study of the design and application technology for health care services, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.  At Texas Woman’s University, we are confident that research like this, along with health informatics can one day help save the lives of not only the citizens of the greater Dallas area, but those who may have been neglected by health research in the past. Utilizing our expertise in health informatics and collaborating with the Community Council of Greater Dallas, we offer valuable experience to improving the All of Us research program as well as contributing to our community.

Through the combination of efforts from the All of Us Research Program, the Community Council of Greater Dallas, Texas Woman’s University, and the hundreds of other partner organizations across the country, we will bring about the first steps towards a new medical landscape that allows for completely personalized treatment options. In honor of Women’s Equality Day, we encourage you to consider participating in this program so that women—and all of us—can benefit from precision care. To learn more and enroll, click here.

Janie Bordner is the President & CEO, Community Council of Greater Dallas, and helps work with the local community so adults living in the Dallas area with a low or moderate income can secure jobs paying a living wage with benefits and a career trajectory. Community Council’s vision is of a future in which every person has access to the highest quality education to develop their full potential at affordable costs.

Mari F. Tietze is Professor at the Texas Woman’s University College of Nursing, teaching health informatics courses focused on interprofessional collaborative practice and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Interprofessional Informatics program. Since 2010, Dr. Tietze has been the co-chair of the Texas Nurses Association/Texas Organization of Nurse Executives Health Information Technology committee to represent nurses’ experiences related to information technology use in their practice of patient care delivery.