Health experts, researchers and opinion leaders from across the country will meet in Northern California for a national conference on genomics, health and race. The goal of the conference is to explore how genomics could potentially be used to customize medical care such as diet plans and medications to improve the health of minorities. Conference attendees will discuss a wide spectrum of ethical, legal and economic issues related to these issues.
The meeting is organized by the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics, based at the University of California, Davis and Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). Keynote speakers include Nicholas Wade, science writer for the New York Times, and Jeffrey Drazen, M.D., editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and professor at Harvard University. The conference chairman is Ronald Krauss, M.D., Senior Scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI).
“We are moving toward an era in which personalized medicine is a real possibility, but there are real concerns that must be resolved such as safeguards to ensure genetic information will not be used in a discriminatory way,” said Dr. Krauss. “We hope this conference will begin a national dialogue to bridge the gap between science and social responsibility.” Leading anthropologists and sociologists will also share their views during the conference.
It is widely accepted that biological differences dictate how diseases work between racial groups. For example, a study released by the American Heart Association in 2004 showed that African Americans responded better to a new heart failure pill than Caucasians. Southeast Asians have a higher incidence of lactose intolerance than any other racial group. African-American men also have a 60% greater risk of having prostate cancer and are two to three times more likely to die of the disease than men of European descent. However, a perplexing question for experts is to what extent biological differences are caused by genetics or by a person’s diet, environment or culture.
The Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics is dedicated to reducing and ultimately eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. “We believe genome-based nutritional interventions can prevent, delay and treat diseases such as asthma, obesity and cardiovascular disease,” said Raymond Rodriquez, M.D., director of the Center and professor at UC Davis. “The knowledge that is gained and shared during this conference must be used to address health disparities among racial/ethnic populations and the poor.”
Dr. Bertram Lubin, co-director of the Center and president of Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), shares this enthusiasm. “Evidence based translational research is the next needed step to realize the tremendous benefits of using genetics to improve health outcomes,” he said. “We must make sure patients understand and are at ease about the use of genomics before physicians will ever be able to use it in their day-to-day practice."
Sponsors of the meeting, A National Dialogue: Genomic, Race, and Health Disparities, include: UC Davis; Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute; the Ethnic Health Institute and the Pharmacogenetics Research Network. The Center is funded by a grant from the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health.