Is Genetic Medicine Ignoring Minorities?

Precision medicine or pharmacogenetics, is the study of a how genes affect a person’s response to drugs. Most, if not all, genetic research is conducted using the genes of white people. Are people of color being deliberately left out of genetic research? Can black and brown people expect to reap the benefits of genetic medicine or are we being left behind? Are minorities refusing to participate in medical research or they are being passively excluded.

Precision medicine needs minorities. Genetic diversity is critical to understanding how drugs work in the human body and why some drugs work on some but not on others. Limiting genetic research to people of white European ancestry limits the potential of genetic medicine to benefit all people. This only exasperates the already growing disparity between medical care for whites and minorities.

A 2009 report issued by the National Institute of Health (NIH) warned that the racial make-up of these studies were badly skewed. People of European ancestry were represented at 10 times the rate of all other groups combined. The report’s warning was clear, “to avoid the genetics science community from contributing to healthcare disparities, it is important to adopt measures to ensure that populations of diverse ancestry are included in genomic studies.”

The answer as to why people of color are being left out is complicated and simple, cultural and historic. First scientist need to control the variables in the research group. Thus, using a single group makes the research easier because the variables are accounted for and understood. Introducing more and different genetic groups complicates and slows down the research. Historically Black people and other people of color are not exactly trusting of the “white man’s medicine.” There is long and well documented history of blacks and minorities being mislead and experimented on my white doctors.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has spent over $30 billion tax payer dollars on medical research. Until recently little or none of that money has been