April 18, 2023

Incorporating sex and gender in research makes for better science

International conference coming to Calgary May 7-11
Sofia Ahmed
Sofia Ahmed

In the age of precision medicine, incorporating sex and gender into research has the potential to improve health and health care. 

Dr. Sofia Ahmed, MD, is one of Canada’s leading experts in sex and gender research.

“I am a strong advocate for the importance of including biological (sex) and cultural (gender) factors into research alongside other factors like age and socioeconomic position,” says Ahmed, a kidney specialist and professor at the Cumming School of Medicine.

“Particularly in this era of precision health, we recognize that including these factors translates into more generalizable research and better care.” 

Her research focuses on the impact of sex-specific factors on cardiovascular health. Traditionally, cardiovascular research has under-represented women and other diverse perspectives even though cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of premature death globally for both men and women. 

Women face unique risk factors in developing heart conditions. For some, risk increases with pregnancy, use of contraceptives and age of menopause. Women with kidney disease also have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Ahmed notes failure to include equity, diversity and inclusion principles at all stages of research can be harmful.

International conference here May 7-11

Her commitment to these ideas is a driver behind bringing the next Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD) annual meeting to Calgary. The international organization is dedicated to enhancing knowledge of sex and gender differences by facilitating communication and collaboration among scientists and clinicians of diverse backgrounds.

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity to hear the latest in sex and gender research from around the world and to really showcase the great work being done at the University of Calgary,” says Ahmed, president-elect of the OSSD.

The conference will run from May 7 to 11 and include presentations and talks from researchers in multiple disciplines including health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, as well as the social sciences.

Several grants will be awarded to trainees and principal investigators, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and its American equivalent, the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Setting priorities for women’s cardiovascular research

Following the conference, Ahmed will be involved in a CIHR- and Libin Cardiovascular Institute-funded meeting to set national priorities for women’s cardiovascular research. The initiative will bring together scientists, health-care providers, funders, patients and their caregivers to determine the top 10 knowledge gaps and priorities in this area. 

“As scientists we want to address what matters to patients and their caregivers,” she says. “This will guide researchers to do the work that improves people’s lives.” 

Ahmed is a member of the CIHR’s Institute of Gender and Health advisory board, and gender lead for Can-SOLVE CKD, a national partnership of patients, researchers, health-care providers, and policy-makers working to transform treatment and care for Canadians affected by chronic kidney disease.

Ahmed says while she recognizes there is still a deficiency in incorporating principles of equity, diversity and into research, she believes the future of women’s cardiovascular research is bright. 

“As researchers, I think we are making a difference,” she says. “My goal is to advocate for research that generates information that allows for shared decision-making with my patients, and I feel very optimistic. I think we will get there as a community.”

The Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative is advancing women’s health by closing the gap in women’s cardiovascular research, training and care, enabling the best possible outcomes for women. Learn more

Sofia Ahmed is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health. She leads the Libin’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative. 

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