Maastricht researchers publish "The 'sex gap' in Covid-19 trials: a scoping review"
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Scientists from Maastricht UMC+ call on hospitals and research units across the globe for more attention to the differences between men and women when undertaking Covid-19 research. Researchers analysed various scientific studies into medication used in the treatment of the coronavirus. None of the studies appeared to distinguish between men and women in the design and therefore used a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. Maastricht researchers recently published their findings in the scientific journal EClinicalMedicine (by The Lancet).
Since the advent of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), research has been conducted all over the world into various aspects of the virus and the disease it causes. The same applies to the use of different forms of medication, such as remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine and corticosteroids. It is well known that many medicines can have different effectiveness in men and women and also diversity in side effects. Nevertheless, a 'one-size-fits-all' approach is still often used in medicine and patients across the board are being prescribed the same amount of the same medication. This was reason enough for Maastricht scientists to look at whether the already published scientific research on the coronavirus makes a difference between the sexes.
From the start of the pandemic in January 2020 until mid-June, thirty scientific publications were analysed, focusing on antiviral and anti-malarial drugs and medication affecting the immune system. In a quarter of all studies, twice as many men than women were included. None of the studies had as their (predetermined) goal to investigate differences in drug effectiveness between men and women. In only one study there was an additional retrospective analysis of gender differences carried out. However, the statistics show that men die more often than women from the coronavirus (10.4% versus 7.0%), while both sexes are equally susceptible to contracting the virus.
"This suggests that sex has an impact on disease progression and recovery",
According to internist intensivist Dr Bas van Bussel, the most important conclusion is that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach is outdated:
"All patients receive the same treatment, while we do see differences in the expression of the disease between men and women. For example, when it comes to organ failure women in intensive care recover more quickly than men. Treatments can also work better for one sex than another, possibly preventing patients from ending up in ICUs."
The Maastricht researchers therefore call on scientists to pay more attention to the differences between the two genders when it comes to the treatment of the coronavirus. Speeding up the public availability and sharing of clinical data will further strengthen the research power in this respect. The research was carried out on the initiative and under the direction of Maastricht UMC+, in collaboration with several other hospitals in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine. These centres now exchange data for scientific research. Read the full paper The "sex gap" in COVID-19 trials: a scoping review.
Photo: ICU in Maastricht UMC+ 2020 © Maastricht UMC+