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Consideration of sex as a biological variable in diabetes research across twenty years.

Biology of Sex Differences 2024 Februrary 27
BACKGROUND: Sex differences exist in the risk of developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and in the risk of developing diabetes-associated complications. Sex differences in glucose homeostasis, islet and β cell biology, and peripheral insulin sensitivity have also been reported. Yet, we lack detailed information on the mechanisms underlying these differences, preventing the development of sex-informed therapeutic strategies for persons living with diabetes. To chart a path toward greater inclusion of biological sex as a variable in diabetes research, we first need a detailed assessment of common practices in the field.

METHODS: We developed a scoring system to evaluate the inclusion of biological sex in manuscripts published in Diabetes, a journal published by the American Diabetes Association. We chose Diabetes as this journal focuses solely on diabetes and diabetes-related research, and includes manuscripts that use both clinical and biomedical approaches. We scored papers published across 3 years within a 20-year period (1999, 2009, 2019), a timeframe that spans the introduction of funding agency and journal policies designed to improve the consideration of biological sex as a variable.

RESULTS: Our analysis showed fewer than 15% of papers used sex-based analysis in even one figure across all study years, a trend that was reproduced across journal-defined categories of diabetes research (e.g., islet studies, signal transduction). Single-sex studies accounted for approximately 40% of all manuscripts, of which > 87% used male subjects only. While we observed a modest increase in the overall inclusion of sex as a biological variable during our study period, our data highlight significant opportunities for improvement in diabetes research practices. We also present data supporting a positive role for journal policies in promoting better consideration of biological sex in diabetes research.

CONCLUSIONS: Our analysis provides significant insight into common practices in diabetes research related to the consideration of biological sex as a variable. Based on our analysis we recommend ways that diabetes researchers can improve inclusion of biological sex as a variable. In the long term, improved practices will reveal sex-specific mechanisms underlying diabetes risk and complications, generating knowledge to enable the development of sex-informed prevention and treatment strategies.

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