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Researchers in the lab
Photo by Rhoda Baer

A new study suggests male investigators in the UK receive more funding for cancer research than their female counterparts.

Researchers analyzed funding for more than 4000 studies and found that male primary investigators (PIs) were consistently awarded more funding.

The total investment value was 3.6 times greater for male PIs than for female PIs.

The mean award value was 1.6 times greater, and the median award value was 1.3 times greater for males.

Rifat Atun, MBBS, of Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues reported these findings in BMJ Open.

The researchers analyzed data on public and philanthropic cancer research funding awarded to UK institutions between 2000 and 2013.

From this data, the team identified 4186 eligible studies with a total investment value of £2.33 billion.

The researchers compared the total investment, number of awards, and mean and median award value between male and female PIs.

Male PIs were awarded 2890 (69%) grants with a total value of £1.8 billion (78%), while female PIs were awarded 1296 (31%) grants with a total value of £0.5 billion (22%).

The median award value was £252,647 (interquartile range, £127,343–£553,560) for men and £198,485 (interquartile range, £99,317–£382,650) for women.

The mean award value was £630,324 (standard deviation, £1,662,559) for men and £394,730 (standard deviation, £666,574) for women.

Dr Atun and his colleagues acknowledged that this study was dependent on the accuracy of original investment data from the funding bodies, and the team could not openly access data of private sector research funding nor obtain disaggregated data from Cancer Research UK, one of the largest funders of cancer research.

The researchers also noted that the gender discrepancies they observed “are likely multifactorial,” and the team was unable to “postulate the underlying mechanisms responsible.” Still, the data do suggest a “substantial” imbalance, which should be investigated.


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