Inequality has cost women the benefits of thousands of "lost" medical inventions. Ron Levine/Stone via Getty Images
MacArthur Genius and MIT professor Linda Griffith has built an epic career as a scientist and inventor, including growing a human ear on a mouse. She now spends her days unpacking the biological mechanisms underlying endometriosis, a condition in which uterus-like tissue grows outside of the uterus. Endometriosis can be brutally painful, is regularly misdiagnosed and misunderstood, and has affected Griffith’s life along with the lives of over 6 million other women in the U.S.
Griffith’s research and inventions have the potential to improve women’s health dramatically. The problem for women is that she stands out for another reason: She’s female. In 2020, only 12.8% of U.S. inventors receiving patents were women, and historically male researchers have ignored conditions like endometriosis.
Male researchers have tended to downplay or even outright overlook the medical needs of women. The result is that innovation has focused mainly on what men choose to research. My colleagues John-Paul Ferguson, Sampsa Samila and I show in a newly published study that patented biomedical inventions in the U.S. created by women are 35% more likely to benefit women’s health than biomedical inventions created by men.
Bias by the numbers
To determine which inventions are female-focused, male-focused or neutral, we analyzed the title, abstract and start of the summary text from 441,504 medical patents using the National Library of Medicine’s Medical Text Indexer. The indexer uses machine learning to categorize the subject of a text document, including whether it has a female or male focus.
Our data reveal that inventions by research teams that are primarily or completely composed of men are significantly more likely to focus on the medical needs of men. In 34 of the 35 years from
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