A study by a respected Northeastern medical institute has found that a disproportionately high number of important clinical trials—dealing with a range of medical issues including depression, diabetes and cancer—exclude gays and lesbians from participating.
The study, reported on March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 243 clinical trials relating to couples and sexual function after various medical treatments. It found that 37 of them—fully 15%—explicitly excluded people in same-sex relationships.
Said Brian Egleston, the lead author of the paper: “The National Institutes of Health guidelines really require scientists to have sound scientific reasoning for why they need to restrict the study to one ethnic group or sex.”
“But there’s not this same level of oversight when it comes to gay and lesbian patients,” added Egleston, an assistant research professor at Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Cancer Center.
Doctors seeking to test a new treatment or medication often use such factors as sex, age, disease and behavior to determine which people can take part in criminal trials. Experts say narrowing down who can participate is an important element in making sure a drug is tested only on people who could benefit from it, and that a clinical trial is not affected by outside diseases or behaviors.
Dustin Davis, a Wilton Manors nurse who has worked in the research field, says it’s fairly common for studies to exclude those who aren’t in the target population for a particular medicine or treatment.
“The problem comes when everybody decides to omit gays and lesbians,” Davis said. “When that happens, who will deal with our health concerns?”
The study’s Egleston says when you look back into even the recent history of medical research often times medical studies were conducted using only white men as participants.
That left doctors to blindly determine if the same drug would work the same on women, or with a different racial or ethnic group.
Many experts now worry the same problem will happen to the LGBT community, leaving individuals vulnerable.
That means, says Davis, that gay patients getting care at a cancer clinic might not know an opportunity exists to try a promising new treatment.
“Lesbian and gay patients probably never realized they were excluded in these trials,” concurs Egleston. “There might be opportunities for experimental treatment.”
Davis says that some research shows that anxiety, depression and suicide rates are different in the gay and straight communities.
“But how can you be sure if these studies are keeping out gay and lesbian participants?” Davis asked.