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Women’s Xchange’s Health Researcher’s Toolkit

Bridging the Sex and Gender Gap
in Health Research

Women’s College Research Institute sets a new standard

There is a health gap in Canada and women are falling through it. From research and policies to treatment options and programs, sex and gender differences have not been adequately considered in healthcare. It’s simple – health research that takes sex and gender into account leads to treatment and practices that are universally beneficial. Driven by this belief, Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) is championing the integration of sex and gender into health research to improve outcomes for all.

Women and men experience healthcare and respond to drug therapies differently. But as recently as the 1990s, women were left out of medical research studies due to concerns that pregnancy and monthly hormonal changes might affect outcomes.

“Many prescriptions, drug therapies and treatment protocols still used today have either been studied only in males or with mixed populations, without reporting any differences for the two sexes,” says Robin Mason, PhD, scientist at WCRI. “This lack of sex-specific analysis can be potentially damaging to women’s health.”

WCRI provides a number of supports to help researchers better integrate sex and gender differences into their work. The Sex and Gender Research Support Service (SGRS) offers researchers guidance and expertise on how to elevate considerations of sex, gender and related factors of identity into their studies. WCRI has also established a set of metrics to assess how well sex and gender have been considered within a research proposal or study. Most notably, the institute has developed the “Health Researcher’s Toolkit,” which consists of seven online modules designed to help students and researchers integrate sex and gender into their work.

“The Health Researcher’s Toolkit focuses on why applying a sex and gender lens to research is necessary, but more importantly, it provides concrete examples of how to do so across a range of study designs,” explains Mason.

Mason and her team are particularly proud of their partnership with Diabetes Action Canada (DAC), a Canadian leader in diabetes research. By working with DAC’s 11 national research teams, WCRI promotes the integration of sex and gender considerations throughout the network’s research process and products, increasing capacity and advancing the future of diabetes research in Canada. Partnerships like these are creating healthy and thriving communities in every area of the province.

“DAC’s leaders, investigators and patient partners are focused on addressing diabetes and its complications among Canada’s patient population,” says Mason. “The diversity of that population requires us to recognize factors that may shape the way conditions like diabetes are experienced, individuals’ access and barriers to health care, and treatment options.”

By propelling inclusive, equitable and meaningful health research, WCRI is changing the landscape of women’s health across Ontario.