On 18 May 2022, the Human Brain Project invited Prof. Lutz Jäncke and Dr. Frances Quevenco and the winners of the Diversity in Research Paper Awards (DIRPA) Ass. Prof. Dr. Sanne Peters and Dr. Yi Zhang to the webinar “Diversity in Brain Research: Does it matter?”.
The HBP’s Diversity and Equal Opportunities Committee wants to encourage everyone in the Human Brain Project and in the European, US and other communities to consider sex, gender and other diversity factors in their research, because all these factors play an important role in shaping the brain”, said HBP Scientific Director Prof. Katrin Amunts who facilitated the webinar and thanks the speakers for making the video recording accessible on YouTube.
Lutz Jäncke spoke about the main aspects uncovered in the past years regarding sex and gender differences in cognition, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy. He pointed out that sex and gender differences in these areas are mostly weak when scientifically scrutinized or measured with current techniques, and that they can be influenced by culture or other factors, like brain size.
Frances Quevenco added that despite the small effect sizes and thus large similarities of brains classified as male or female, almost all research on brain diseases is biased, by referring to male study subjects as the norm and not differentiating sexes when studying risk factors, symptoms, drug response, and other aspects. Thus, the Women’s Brain Project, an NGO, aims to improve the state of medical treatments and drug development for brain and mental health through sex and gender factors analysis.
Diversity in Research Paper Awards
Sanne Peters continued by describing how several, but not all, stroke risk factors are associated with a greater excess risk of stroke in women, and that, despite this, the incidence of stroke remains higher among men. These findings are robust and based on a very large sample of UK Biobank participants (a total of 471,971; 56% women) examining the predictiveness of risk factors for stroke types in a longitudinal study. The paper “Sex differences in the association between major risk factors and the risk of stroke in the UK Biobank cohort study” not only looks at the sex-specific risks associated with diverse known risk factors but also subdivides the analysis according to age, socioeconomic status, and pre-existing health conditions.
Yi Zhang led the way back to the starting point of the discussion by explaining that via machine learning algorithms, brains can be classified on a continuum, with male and female at the extreme ends. He is the first author of “The Human Brain Is Best Described as Being on a Female/Male Continuum: Evidence from a Neuroimaging Connectivity Study”. In this study, approximately 50% of the brains were classified as androgynous, since they lay in the middle of the continuum, whereas 25% of the brains were classified at the female end and 25% at the male end of the continuum. His research omits the dichotomy of sex/gender by connecting sex and gender with further variables, e.g., hormone levels, age, environmental factors, like social, educational, and occupational status.
Want to learn more about how to consider diversity in your own research? The HBP has developed a research guideline for you: have a look at www.edi-toolkit.org/research and www.humanbrainproject.eu/en/about/gender-equality/measures-and-materials/
Text: Helen Mendes, Karin Grasenick
Link to Recording: https://youtu.be/0530xCNL_io