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Genetic Research Could Be Suffering From Racial Bias To Detriment Of Science

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There is an alarming lack of diversity in the genomic study of human diseases and it presents serious consequences to public health.

A new paper found that people of European descent make up the majority of the individuals who participate in various research that links genetics and diseases. The researchers argued that the racial bias in the field limits the understanding of how genetic and environmental factors influence health.

European Bias In Genomic Research

In the study published in the journal Cell on Thursday, March 21, researchers found that 78 percent of all individuals included in genomic studies of human diseases were of European descent.

Only 10 percent of the total number of participants were of Asian ancestry, 2 percent were African, 1 percent were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were from other ethnic groups.

Harmful Effects Of Lack Of Diversity

The discovery is alarming because Europeans and their offsprings only represent 12 percent of the global population. Ignoring the rest of the world means that scientists could be missing vital information that would advance the study of certain diseases and lead to the development of more effective treatment.

Researchers said that the European bias within genomic studies of diseases will harm the public and further exacerbate existing health inequalities.

"For example, approaches are being developed to predict a person's risk of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, or diabetes based on their status for multiple genes," explained Scott M. Williams of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, a co-author of the study. "But such calculations developed based on evidence from primarily European populations may not apply to people of other ethnic backgrounds."

People are already feeling the consequences of the lack of diversity in genomic studies of human diseases. PBS noted that in one study, a genotype-guided algorithm prescribed too much medication among African-American patients, leading to an increased risk of uncontrolled bleeding.

"The lack of ethnic diversity in human genomic studies means that our ability to translate genetic research into clinical practice or public health policy may be dangerously incomplete, or worse, mistaken," the researchers wrote.

In light of the discovery, the researchers are calling for an increase in diversity in genomic studies. They also highlight the need to fund studies and infrastructures that focus on ethnically diverse populations and often neglected groups.

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