Medication proves more effective when prescribed based on gender

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The drugs your doctor prescribes to treat your high blood pressure could be more effective if they were best suited for your gender. 

In a study using the world’s first computational female kidney model, developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo, high blood pressure medication was shown to be more effective when gender was taken into consideration.

“We found that the mechanics of the kidney are quite different between males and females even though they accomplish the same goals, including stabilizing blood pressure,” said Anita Layton, professor of Applied Mathematics, Pharmacy and Biology at Waterloo.

“Because the kidney plays a major role in blood pressure regulation, sex differences in kidney function likely reflects on sex differences in blood pressure regulation, and perhaps the fact that men generally have higher blood pressure and are at greater risk for heart and kidney diseases.”

Up until recently, it was widely believed that there were no major differences between a male and a female kidney. It was known that the male kidney is bigger, but the researchers found that the differences don’t stop there. They built the first-ever computational model of a female rat kidney to ascertain what implications the sexual differences of a male and female kidney have on blood pressure regulation. 

Professor Layton and postdoctoral fellow Rui Hu, along with University of Southern California professor Alicia McDonough, built computational kidney models separately for male and female rats, to see how the sex difference affects the way the two excrete salt. The researchers discovered fundamental sex differences at a molecular level (the number and density of membrane transporters), and those variances are reflected in how male and female rats handle salt balance differently.

Combining model simulations performed at the University of Waterloo and wet-lab experiments at the University of Southern California, it was revealed that if rats are force-fed lots of salt, the females can excrete that salt load more quickly than males. The researchers attribute the female rats’ ability to excrete salt faster to the fact that they need to be prepared to deal with pregnancy and lactation. 

“Because women face the same challenges in pregnancy and lactation, there are likely significant sex differences in men and women kidneys,” said Layton, the Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematical Biology and Medicine. “Given the link between salt and blood pressure, this sexual difference has implications on how the kidneys of men and women regulate blood pressure differently and may explain why some blood pressure medicines work better in men, and others in women.

“Doctors, therefore, need to be more mindful of what drugs they prescribe for men as opposed to women, and vice versa. What doctors frequently do is to prescribe the same blood pressure medication for everyone. And while the drugs generally work, some will be less effective in one gender.”

The study, Functional implications of the differences in transporters’ abundance along the rat nephron: modelling and analysis, authored by Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics researchers Layton and Hu, and McDonough of the University of Southern California, was published recently in the American Journal of Physiology Renal Physiology.

MEDIA CONTACT | Chris Wilson-Smith
226-338-6564 | @uwaterloonews | uwaterloo.ca/news

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