Landscape of Women’s Health Research

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Change is on the horizon.
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Dr. Angela Colantonio, Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, part of University Health Network. Image Courtesy of UofT Medicine.

By: Tyler Saumur, UHN Trainee and ORT Times Writer

There is a gap in the knowledge and research surrounding women’s health; there is no getting around it and it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

This gap began with animal research. In the past, studies conducted on animals were almost exclusively performed on male rodents or other male animals. And, this parody stems beyond basic science work to clinical research as well: “Historically, in clinical trials, researchers were concerned about the effects on female bodies as they were considered more complex; for example, ‘if they tried this drug, what would their implications be on child bearing?’” says Dr. Angela Colantonio, UHN Senior Scientist and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Research Chair in Gender, Work and Health.

Overcoming this disparity is not an easy task and it needs to begin with providing researchers with the exposure, knowledge and funds to lay the groundwork necessary to advance women’s health research. In Canada, we have begun to take steps in the right direction. The Government of Canada has committed to providing $3.5 billion into improving health and advocating for the rights of women and children. The CIHR requires researchers to include a plan to integrate sex and gender into their grant proposals, and offers online training modules to provide underpinning knowledge around the appropriate application of this integration. Acknowledging and addressing these issues are essential to closing the gap in women’s health.

In science, sex and gender research still has a long way to go. Dr. Colantonio states that additional research would be beneficial in absolutely every area, adding that there remain numerous inequities in terms of access and tailoring of the interventions.

We need to continue moving forward to push the boundaries of innovation in women’s research and according to Dr. Colantonio, we now have the means at our disposal, “It’s encouraging to see enormous progress. Putting resources behind something is really important.” A recent success with respect to resources was in the release of the Government of Canada’s 2018 Budget, which includes $925 million for granting councils over the next five years. What we do with these resources is now up to us.