APR 27, 2019 3:17 PM PDT

Stressing the Need to Diversify Genetic Data Sets

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

There is an accurate genetic tool for predicting a person’s risk of developing complex diseases like type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, or heart disease - called a polygenic score. It can help doctors identify who needs intervention even when common signs of the disorders are absent. However, if the scores have been developed using genomic data from people of Eurasian descent (most have), they will be the best at predicting risk for people of European ancestry, and not as good for other ancestries.

"From a clinical context, this means that current polygenic scores are significantly better in predicting the risk of common diseases for people of European ancestry than those of African ancestry," said Alicia Martin. Martin is the lead author of a new study on this topic in Nature Genetics.

"This further confirms that risk predictors are more precise if they are drawn from genetic data derived from a similar ancestry," said Martin, who is an affiliate of the Program in Medical and Population Genetics and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute. "It is crucial that researchers should recruit more minority populations in future genetic studies and also make data from such studies accessible and open. Failure to do this will lead to further inequities in our healthcare system."

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Nature Genetics

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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