Genetic Studies Need Diversity to Thrive

Updated March 25, 2019

The field of genetics has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the last several decades, offering people more insight into how their bodies work and how their genes influence the diseases and conditions that they develop. Those who opt to undergo genomic testing through companies like 23andMe, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA have the option to participate in studies and further research when it comes to biomarkers. However, there's one downside: there's an astonishing lack of diversity.

Not A Clear Picture

When it comes to studies, it's important to have a variety of ethnic backgrounds to call upon. For the most part, the ethnicities participating in these genomic studies are vastly European. This means that there are far fewer genetic differences than there would be if a European profile was compared to that of someone of Asian descent, for example.

These differences are what paint a complete picture, according to an article on STATnews, and without other ethnicities to compare to, researchers don't have a clear outlook on many genes and biomarkers.

Everyone's DNA Is Needed

It's not just a matter of ethnicity, other factors play into a comprehensive overlook as well. Gender, age and sexual orientation are just a few, but they're vital. Some diseases affect children while others affect a specific race. For example, sickle cell disease primarily affects those of African descent.

Results Aren't Thorough Enough

While the genomic information is helpful to researchers, the real problem lies within the results. Discoveries, whether of disease progression or biomarkers that can lead to medical conditions, are detected through DNA analysis. When there isn't enough diversity, researchers aren't able to make these discoveries. The National Institutes of Health is trying to push the value of uniqueness through the All of Us research program. Other companies and agencies are looking to make genomic testing more widely available to those ethnicities that are lacking results.

Participants Come From Specific Areas

The main participants in genomic research live primarily in three countries: the United States, the UK and Ireland. Where Asians make up the majority of the Earth's population, they're vastly underrepresented in the studies, encapsulating only 11 percent of the participants. Latin Americans are underrepresented as well.

With more genomic data, scientists and researchers can continue to pinpoint discoveries and put them to good use. More information is needed to help develop cures and treatments, for example, and the best way to do this is to include more diversity in the studies.

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