Today, I invited Meagan Taylor to guest blog. Meagan is a second year PhD student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and is studying sex-linked immune responses to viral infections.
Meagan's Advice to Future Scientists:
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too loud, too feminine, too much… You are allowed to be whoever you are and still be a scientist. You don’t have to sacrifice your personality for a career in science, nor do you have to sacrifice a career in science to be yourself.
Did you know that women of “childbearing” age were excluded from clinical studies in the US until 1986? It’s true! The FDA issued the guideline in 1977 with the thought that this would protect the future generations. This is due, in part, to the thalidomide incident of the mid-1900s. Thalidomide was a drug used to treat nausea in pregnant women; however, the drug ultimately caused severe birth defects in thousands of children, so it was removed from the market. To prevent this issue from occurring again, the FDA issued the guideline… But excluding women from clinical studies had its own consequences.
Females are thought to mount a stronger immune response than their male counterparts. In humans, this is exhibited by a stronger type I interferon response, larger numbers of T cells, and more robust antibody responses. We have even seen an immunological sex bias in the COVID-19 pandemic; males are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 disease than females, and they are more likely to die from SARS-CoV-2 infection than females. On the other hand, females are more likely to experience autoimmune disorders than males. In the US, women make up over 75% of autoimmunity cases in the United States. The mechanism behind this sex bias in immunologic response is still unknown; however, research is actively being done to demystify this phenomenon.
Today, the NIH “requires” that sex and/or gender be considered in grant proposals. Yet, I still see so many papers being released that seem to not actually do this. I’ve even heard some scientists say that they only work with male animals because they’re “easier to study.” When I tell people that I want to study sex differences, I’m told that it’s too much work for a PhD. And to that I say, you’re wrong. Even understanding one pathway that differs between males and females immunologically will bring so much direction to the field. We are one step closer to personalized medicine and understanding the immunology behind why there is a sex bias in disease states could truly help!
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