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Member Research and Reports

UNC Study: Genetic Variations Specific to African Ancestry May Increase Kidney Disease Risk in Hispanic, Latino Populations

A new study from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health reveals that genetic alleles linked to African ancestry may contribute to chronic kidney disease among Hispanic and Latino populations.

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[Photo: Drs. Nora Franceschini (left) and Jianwen Cai]

In the United States, Hispanics and Latinos comprise just more than 15 percent of adults in the country, and remain one of the fastest growing minority groups. Hispanic/Latino ethnicity is associated with higher risk for several chronic medical conditions, including chronic kidney disease (CKD), but the population within the U.S. is genetically diverse. CKD risk and associated risk factors like hypertension and diabetes vary among Hispanics and Latinos based on their country of origin, and likely their continental ancestry background as well.

To learn more about this public health concern, researchers examined the association of an African ancestry-specific allele (APOL1) and a sickle cell trait (HBB variant) with chronic kidney disease measures in 12,226 Hispanics and Latinos.

The two study co-authors from the Gillings School are Dr. Nora Franceschini, research associate professor of epidemiology, and Dr. Jianwen Cai, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of biostatistics and interim chair of the biostatistics department.

“The paper describes the prevalence of African-specific genetic risk in Hispanics and Latinos, which usually is unrecognized in these populations,” Dr. Franceschini said. “We have learned that there are two genes with genetic variants that are common in individuals of African descent – one related to sickle cell anemia and another linked with the presence of the APOL1 allele – which confer CKD risk to Hispanics and Latinos. Both these variants are already associated with chronic kidney disease in Africans and African-Americans.”

The study findings reveal that, as some Hispanics/Latinos – especially those with roots in the Caribbean region – also have African ancestry, this group also is at risk for chronic kidney disease related to these two genes.

The full study, “African Ancestry-Specific Alleles and Kidney Disease Risk in Hispanics/Latinos,” was published online Sept. 20 by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Read more: https://sph.unc.edu/sph-news/genetic-variations-specific-to-african-ancestry-may-increase-kidney-disease-risk-in-hispanic-latino-populations/