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Policy Changes Needed to Prevent Disparities in Genetically Based Medicine

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Despite the promise of genetically based diagnoses and treatments, ensuring that disadvantaged groups can benefit from such medical advances will require a number of changes in healthcare and research policies, according to a new report published this week.

"Unprecedented advances in genetically based diagnoses and treatments provide opportunities for personalized medicine," Tufts University researcher Jose Ordovas and his colleagues wrote in Health Affairs. "However, disadvantaged groups may lack access to these advances, and treatments based on research on non-Hispanic whites might not be generalizable to members of minority groups. Unless genetic technologies become universally accessible, existing disparities could be widened."

In the paper, the team — which included scientists from the University of Washington, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ohio State University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Massachusetts, and the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health — focused on breast cancer and chronic kidney disease to highlight the existence of racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare.

To address the problem, the researchers recommended expanding genetic research to include more non-white participants, as well as efforts to promote participation in community-based research to help improve genetic literacy. They also called for increased funding to support efforts studying the interplay between genetics and the environment, and enhancing access to genetic technologies for minority populations in ways that avoid stigmatization.

"We need to collect more data from groups for whom we currently have insufficient information so that we can improve care for all individuals," Ordovas said in a statement. "Increasing diversity in research and testing will help maximize the possibilities of precision medicine."