Making Research Subjects Better Reflect The Population At Large

Recently the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that starting in October, populations of lab animals and research cells will need to follow the same requirements for gender equity as required for research on human populations.  Put in other words, the lab mice (and cell samples) used in an experiment need to have as many males as females.  NIH Director Francis Collins, along with Janine Clayton, the Director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, outlined the reasoning behind the new policy in Nature.

While the tools and processes are in place to increase the diversity of research subjects, there are other areas where research could do better.  A recent opinion column in The New York Times (H/T ScienceInsider) argues that older people are not adequately represented in clinical trials.  While there are issues related to informed consent for research on younger subjects, such barriers – to the extent they exist – are much smaller for older test subjects.  I agree with the column that there is no reason to exclude subjects on the basis of age, but I suspect properly recruiting older people for research trials and controlling for the factors that might influence experimental results will make it harder to address this gap.

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