OSSD Presidents Message By Liisa Galea, Ph.D.

Statement from OSSD President By Liisa Galea, Ph.D.

Liisa Galea PhD is the new Treliving Family Chair in Women’s Mental Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Professor in Department of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and Toxicology at University of Toronto, and Lead of the Women’s Health Research Cluster.

Another OSSD meeting is in the books! OSSD, with the help our sponsors, gave out a record 71 awards for trainees to travel to beautiful Calgary in Alberta, Canada. The attendance was fantastic, with over 300 people - but better still, it was a record number of trainees at the conference.  The future of OSSD – as they say–  is bright. I was hugely gratified to see the terrific amount of engagement during the poster sessions and talks. I even heard from some first-time attendees that the OSSD meeting was the most engaging and collegial conference they have attended.

I am delighted to start my second year in my 2-year term as President of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences. We have continued our strong collaborations with the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research in Women’s Health (NIH ORWH) and the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR).  The society journal, Biology of Sex Differences, with Dr Jill Becker as the Editor-in Chief, is enjoying much success with an impact factor of 7.9. SWHR, along with Partnership for Women’s Health Research (PHWR), held a half-day women’s health symposium prior to the start of our annual meeting to highlight the importance of studying women’s health alongside sex as a biological variable (SABV) and sex and gender-based analysis (SGBA).

It is apparent that there is a growing focus on the importance of sex and gender in health research. As a professional society, our members are terrific ambassadors, who collectively stress that sex influences can be manifested in many ways. However, we also have a duty to be mindful about how we disseminate these data to the public and to each other. The political fallout from studying possible sex differences is ripe with misconceptions about what the data mean. However, we need attention on the sex and gender influences in our data now more than ever.  I truly believe that studying sex and gender will improve health outcomes for all. 

In my travels, I have listened to a variety of speakers, and I am struck by a number of current themes that I think the field as a whole needs to grapple with.  What I have heard from some scientists are sentiments that boil down to the view that studying sex differences is an equity problem, not a science problem. Of course I, and I assume many of you, would wholeheartedly disagree. Further, there are numerous examples of researchers assuming that accounting for sex by using it as a covariate or matching samples is enough. We, as scientists dedicated to understanding the science of sex differences, know that accounting for sex in that way is not using it as a meaningful variable –yet these practices dominate the literature. I can only assume many of you have experienced the highs and lows of searching for papers on a topic, eagerly downloading the found literature, only to find that although sex or gender was mentioned, the paper does not actually statistically determine whether sex or gender influenced the outcomes. I encourage you to reach out to your colleagues to keep planting the seed that studying sex differences is important, and better yet, collaborate with them to illustrate the power of harnessing sex or gender as a discovery variable.  It is a win-win for science (and our CVs).  Together, I know we can make a difference.

In 2024, for the first time, our annual OSSD meeting will be held outside of North America.  There are a few reasons the council voted to hold our meeting in Norway, beyond getting a chance see the beautiful fjords. One important one is that it takes a global village to solve a global problem. This is despite major funders in the US, Canada, and the European Union highlighting and mandating the study of sex as a biological variable. I have also learned in my travels that for many languages, there is no separate word for sex and gender! This is true for Mandarin, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, and Norwegian (and many others). Perhaps this is a major reason why it is conflated so much in the literature?! We have much to learn when we listen to diverse disciplines and speakers from diverse countries. I am looking forward to seeing you in Norway – please join us and consider joining one of our many committees to help spread the word that studying sex and gender in our research will yield powerful discoveries to improve health outcomes for all.