Subscribe to Newsletter
Discovery & Development Clinical Trials, Drug Discovery, Translational Science

Of Men and Mice

For the past half century, preclinical neuroscience researchers have almost exclusively used male animals. The result? An unclear picture of the neural mechanisms that may underlie disease susceptibility in women – according to Rebecca M. Shansky, associate professor of psychology at Northeastern University in the US.

“Males and females can metabolize drugs differently, so I think if we study only males, we can miss potential side effects that women might experience,” says Shansky. “We might also find that drugs don’t work as well in females, so it’s really important to study both.”

In her article for Science (1), Shansky explains that the imbalance is rooted in the belief that circulating ovarian hormones make data from female animals messier and more variable than data from males – a claim refuted by two recent meta analyses in mice and rats (2,3).

In 2014, the NIH and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research introduced new mandates for researchers to consider sex as an experimental variable, generating a great deal of debate in the research community. And in August, 2019, Senior Editors of the British Journal of Pharmacology followed suit by recommending that all future studies published in the journal should formally address sex as an experimental variable (4).

“I saw the field of neuroscience become concerned that ovarian hormones would complicate their research (which is why they didn’t study females in the first place),” says Shansky. “I wrote the piece to help dispel their concerns and ask them to think about why they were under the impression that hormones made data from females more variable than males when that is in fact not true.”

Shansky says the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. “It really seemed to resonate that there were some cultural biases underlying the reasoning for not studying females,” she says. “Generally speaking, I think many researchers are coming around to using both sexes. And if they are in the US and want NIH funding, they’re going to have to be!”

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Medicine Maker and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

  1. RM Shansky, “Are hormones a ‘female problem’ for animal research?”, Science, 364, 825-826 (2019). PMID: 31147505.
  2. BJ Prendergast, KG Onishi and I Zucker, “Female mice liberated for inclusion in neuroscience and biomedical research”, Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 40, 1 (2014). PMID: 24456941.
  3. JB Becker, BJ Prendergast and JW Liang, “Female rats are not more variable than male rats: a meta-analysis of neuroscience studies”, Biol Sex Differ, 7, 34 (2016). PMID: 27468347.
  4. JR Docherty et al, “Sex: A change in our guidelines to authors to ensure that this is no longer an ignored experimental variable”, Br J Pharmacol [Epub ahead of print] (2019). PMID: 31441038.
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.


From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

Register to The Medicine Maker

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Medicine Maker magazine