BioPharma, Diagnostics

Study finds dozens of associations between genes, diseases in minorities

The researchers at the University of North Carolina who conducted the PAGE study said the results are especially important in the context of precision medicine.

dna, genomics

A new study has uncovered dozens of new associations between genes and diseases among minority populations, highlighting the need to include minorities in precision medicine studies.

The Population Architecture using Genomic and Epidemiology, or PAGE study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and published Wednesday in Nature, analyzed the phenotypes of nearly 50,000 non-European people and identified 65 new associations between genes and diseases, as well as replicating 1,400 associations. The majority of genomic data that has been collected in the context of precision medicine has focused on people of European descent, which means minorities may lack access to medicare care, thereby making it harder to reduce the chronic disease disparities between racial and ethnic groups.

“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,” study coauthor Misa Graff, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UNC, said in a statement. “Understanding the genes in these populations is key to targeting prevention and designing drugs that can better target their illnesses and improve quality of life.”

African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancers, with Department of Health and Human Services figures showing African-Americans as 80 percent more likely to have diabetes and 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.

On June 6, the Food and Drug Administration released a draft guidance on ways to increase diversity in clinical trials, such as through adjusting trial designs, eligibility criteria and enrollment practices so that trials could better reflect the general population along racial, ethnic and gender lines. Diversity in clinical trials was also the subject of a panel discussion on June 5 at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, which advocated efforts to build trust in minority communities in order to improve diversity. The panel included a slide stating that while minorities represent 38.7 percent of the population of the U.S., their rate of inclusion in clinical trials ranges from 16 percent to as low as 2 percent, with African-Americans and Latinos respectively making up less than 5 percent and 1 percent of trial participants.

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