Top rheum journal launches summit on sex and gender

6 minute read

Run by The Lancet Rheumatology, the summit will cover gender disparities on both the patient front and in rheumatology as a specialty.

It’s known that women are underrepresented as rheumatologists and overrepresented as rheumatology patients, but chances to come together as a profession and investigate those effects have been few and far between.  

A summit devoted to exploring the role of sex and gender in rheumatology is set to take place online over September 22 and 23 (UK time), with an international speaker line-up curated by The Lancet Rheumatology Editor-in-Chief Dr Heather Van Epps.  

Registration for live online attendance will be open until 9:00pm AEST on Wednesday September 2022, with on-demand online access available for a further six months – including to those registering after the event. 

Dr Van Epps, who lives and works in the UK, spoke to Rheumatology Republic about the event.  

Rheumatology Republic: There are sex and gender disparities among rheumatologists as professionals, but also among patients. How will the conference strike a balance between those two sides of the coin?  

Dr Van Epps: That’s a great point and something that we were really keen to accomplish when we started planning the conference. We decided to have more traditional formal talks covering the various ways in which sex and gender impact and intersect with rheumatic diseases from the standpoint of biology (genetics and hormones), the clinical manifestations of rheumatic diseases and response to therapies, and provision and uptake of healthcare – in other words, the impact to patients.  

Then to cover aspects of sex and gender disparities in academic rheumatology, for example, we felt that a group discussion that engages the audience would be the most interesting and thought-provoking setting; we really want to hear feedback from those working in the field, from all career stages. It’s clear that there are structural imbalances within institutions that perpetuate inequities; historical norms are now being challenged, but we have a long way to go, and it’s valuable to have input from a wide variety of perspectives. In the end, we realised that the topic is so wide-ranging, we easily could have filled a week-long conference!  

RR: Which sessions are you most looking forward to? What’s set to be the most interesting discussion?  

Dr Van Epps: I’m looking forward to the entire event, and I can’t wait to hear how each session develops, the variety of data that are presented and what kinds of questions the audience will pose. That said, I’m probably most looking forward to the panel discussions, as I think the format tends to maximise engagement and often makes for the most informative, nuanced and spirited conversations.  

On Friday, I will chair a panel discussion about sex and gender in the design and reporting of research studies and clinical trials – this is a really critical area, and there are so many important questions that need to be addressed around how to design studies so that they deliver robust and conclusive data that pertain to diverse populations. Funders and regulators are increasingly asking researchers to incorporate sex and gender – as well as other aspects of diversity – into the design of studies and clinical trials and to ensure that the populations of patients that they study are representative of real-world patient populations. I know that there are a lot of questions and uncertainties around the implications of this. As such, I think this will be a very lively and engaging session.  

RR: How did the idea for this conference come about?  

Dr Van Epps: Our parent company, Elsevier, offered the Lancet journals the opportunity to host 2-day virtual meetings (the ‘Lancet Summits’), and they offered editors of Lancet journals to pitch ideas for these Summits. I thought it seemed like an exciting opportunity, and given that The Lancet Rheumatology has a fantastic, engaged group of experts that serve on our International Advisory board, they were my first port of call.  

I asked the board for their ideas on topics that would merit such an event; I especially wanted to ensure that we organised an event that was unique and forward-looking – something that wasn’t already covered in the usual conference circuit. One of our board members – Professor Oliver Distler, Director of the University of Zurich rheumatology department – suggested the idea of a conference focused on sex and gender in rheumatology. He had discussed the idea with his colleague, Dr Anna-Maria Hoffmann-Vold from Oslo University Hospital, and right away I knew that it was the topic that we would pitch to Elsevier.  

There has been increasing recognition of the importance of sex and gender as determinants of health and health outcomes, but there are clear gaps with regard to sex and gender, and the reality is that this gap poses disproportionate risks to women and gender-diverse people, including risks of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. So, it’s really important, and I was excited about the idea right away. We were lucky that both Oliver and Anna-Maria agreed to be co-chairs of our scientific committee.   

RR: Who should attend?  

Dr Van Epps: I think the Summit offers something for everyone – academic rheumatology researchers (at all career stages), clinical trialists, students, patients, pharmaceutical companies, funders and regulators. We hope that the discussions will be engaging across the gamut of stakeholders in rheumatology.  

RR: Lancet Rheumatology was the number one impact journal in the rheum space this year. How does it feel to be on top?  

Dr Van Epps: It’s really humbling, to be honest. When we launched The Lancet Rheumatology, I set a goal of achieving this goal within 5 years, but I genuinely didn’t anticipate that it would happen after less than 3 years. There are many factors that contributed, including the covid-19 pandemic and the perhaps unanticipated involvement of rheumatologists in management of patients with severe covid-19. 

But really the achievement belongs to the authors that entrusted us with their research early on, and of course, the peer reviewers that dedicate their time and expertise to helping us publish science of the highest quality that will impact clinical care and, ultimately, help to improve the lives of patients with rheumatic diseases. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

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