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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UNC: Study Finds Lack of Diversity in Genomic Research Hinders Precision Medicine for Nonwhite Americans

The vast majority of genomic data scientists have collected focuses on people of European descent, overlooking minority populations. As genetic-based precision medicine grows, this data gap means minorities may lack access to medical care that could reduce growing chronic disease disparities among racial and ethnic groups.

Precision medicine is an approach that allows doctors to select treatments that are most likely to be effective in protecting a patient’s health or treating their disease, based on an understanding of the patient’s individual genes, environment and lifestyle. This approach allows doctors and researchers to better predict which treatments and prevention strategies will work for which people, but it can’t be used effectively without access to accurate information for that particular individual or group.

A team of researchers from institutions across the country analyzed phenotypes of nearly 50,000 non-European individuals, identifying 65 new associations and replicating 1,400 associations between genes and diseases, highlighting the need for equitable inclusion of diverse populations in genetic research.

Dr. Kari North, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Gillings School for Global Public Health, and Dr. Misa Graff, assistant professor in same department, are co-authors on the paper “Genetic Diversity Improves Our Understanding of Complex Trait Architecture,” which was published June 19 in Nature.

“This is an extremely important public health issue,” Dr. Graff said. “We need to work hard to make sure that the populations most burdened by disease are not overlooked by genomic studies, because we cannot afford for disease disparities to get worse.”

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