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The University of Southampton

Southampton bone disease study praised by MP Caroline Nokes

Published: 3 May 2023
Southampton study praised

Politician Caroline Nokes MP has praised University of Southampton academics for their pioneering work which found inequalities in both the treatment of men and women with debilitating bone diseases and sex bias in laboratory experiments.

The Member of Parliament for Romsey and Southampton North, on visiting the University, heard how medication used for skeletal conditions including osteoporosis has historically been developed with female patients in mind.

Current NHS figures show there are nearly four million people living with osteoporosis in the UK – which is expected to cost the NHS nearly £7billion a year by 2030.

The Southampton academics, from the Bias in Bones research team, told Ms Nokes how their research found that treatment inequality starts in the laboratories which develop medication best suited women – but are still given to men.

MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the government’s women and equalities committee, said: “It is great to visit the University of Southampton and learn about the pioneering scientific research undertaken on our doorstep. The fascinating part of the Bias in Bones research is that it has found inequalities for patients in an area which is often overlooked.”

There are an estimated 536,000 bone breaks in the UK each year that require hospital treatment, most of which relate to hip fractures, according to the NHS.

Although less common, men with hip breaks are at particular risk, said University of Southampton scientist Dr Claire Clarkin, from the Bias in Bones team, with a mortality rate reported two to three times higher than women.

Speaking to the MP, Dr Clarkin added: “While bone loss is typically more common in women after menopause, which impacts the ability for them to go back to work following fragility fractures, recent studies have also shown that osteoporosis cases are growing in men.

“There is an undetected bias at pre-clinical stage among the laboratory scientists developing medications for bone diseases who base studies on one sex. Currently, they do not have to report on which sex they select – this needs to change to improve healthcare.”

The Southampton team are now calling on UK healthcare and research bodies to improve sex bias in bone research.

The academics have published a five-step plan to eliminate inequality and provide better treatments.

Researcher Dr Valentina Cardo, an Associate Professor also from the University of Southampton team, added: “Sex bias that begins in laboratories can translate into health inequalities for patients suffering from debilitating bone diseases. UK healthcare can address this by funding research where both sexes are instigated and appropriately reported.”

Find out about the University of Southampton’s Bias in Bones project.

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