Diversity in Biomedical Research

Like other fields, biomedical research is enriched by diversity. Innovation thrives when people with different viewpoints, backgrounds, and skills contribute to an organization or attempt to solve a problem.

The really thorny questions that biomedical science seeks to answer–like how cancer cells metastasize, or why some neurons degenerate–require collaboration with researchers from a variety of disciplines and cognitive abilities conducting experiments from multiple angles simultaneously. When faced with puzzles of this magnitude, we especially need to take advantage of the talent of all segments of our richly diverse population–and that includes women, underrepresented minorities, and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In addition, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in May, investigators need to start incorporating female lab animals, cells, and tissues in their basic science research. Diseases and drugs often have different effects on women than men, and characterizing these variations in preclinical studies will help shed light on how and why they occur in humans. Currently, the vast majority of basic research focuses on male animals. And this disparity extends to those performing the experiments. Less than one-third of research scientists in the U.S. are female, while underrepresented minorities earn well under 10% of doctoral degrees in science and engineering.

Through mentorship, pipeline programs, and scholarships, medical and graduate schools have been making a concerted effort to increase diversity among scientific researchers. And last year, despite stark budget pressures, the NIH launched a new funding program to promote diversity in the biomedical workforce. This October, it will be introducing new policies to foster gender inclusion in basic science studies.

I am hopeful that these new initiatives will help reduce gender bias in preclinical research and promote greater diversity among its practitioners. As physician-scientists, our ultimate goal is to improve the treatments that we can offer our patients, both female and male–and to do so, we need to marshal all the scientific and intellectual resources possible.

Read the full story on the Weill Cornell Medical College page here.