The mapping of the genome is considered to be one of the greatest medical advances of the 21st century so far. It is easy to see why, considering the great opportunities it presents for preventative medicine; in particular understanding genetic causes of diseases and the ability to 'predict' if someone is more likely to develop certain cancers. The possibilities are truly endless.
It is interesting to see, however, that the field of genomic medicines does not appear to be learning from issues experienced in other fields. Examples used in this article highlight how differences between the sexes aren't always taken in to account within the technology industry such as with Microsoft speech recognition. However not taking into account the differences between races has the potential to be dangerous within the field of medicines.
Further to highlighted examples including how African-American genetics fool commonly used diabetes tests, the genetic differences between ethnicities is particularly obvious within cancer care and treatment. In some cases, it is that the signs are harder to identify, for example the darkening of skin in children associated with leukaemia. In others it is that cancers affect ethnicities differently, examples include the case of Black African males who have the predisposition to develop prostate cancer at a much earlier age than Caucasian males. Additionally, in a number of cases there are issues associated with transplants required as a part of cancer treatment.
In the case of bone marrow transplantation people are more likely to find a match with someone with a similar ethnic background. Further to this a study by Henry Ford Hospital found that "transplant between races had better outcomes than transplant across races". These problems mean that patients of non-Caucasian ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have to wait longer before a transplant match is found and potentially experience reduced outcomes.
Charities such as ACLT work to increase awareness of the importance of having greater diversity of registered bone marrow donors in terms of ethnicity to increase the likelihood of finding matching donors in a timely manner. Other groups work to raise awareness of the differences in how diseases present within and effect a variety of ethnicities. Yet there is still much to be done in this area.
The statistics highlighted in this article are not surprising considering a widespread lack of awareness regarding the innate genetic differences between ethnicities. As work continues to progress into analysis of the genome and how this can be developed into specifically targeted medicines, it is highly important that a greater effort is made to engage with individuals from all ethnicities. This, in part, will help to provide reasoning for and understanding of these differences. With a better scientific understanding of how the genomes of all ethnicities compare to each other, there is potential to build and share best practices in terms of prevention strategies. Heightened awareness and understanding of these innate differences also has the potential to improve outcomes for patients of minority ethnic backgrounds not only through targeted treatment but also through enhanced physician education.
If these advancements in genomic medicines and the mapping of the genome are to truly be some of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 21st century, it is imperative that they are made effective and available for all individuals.
More than 80 per cent of genomic data, which underpins much of how genetic medicine works, comes from Caucasians.