• Sofia Eugeniou

Lack of diversity in research studies has serious consequences for science and medicine

Western bias in human genetic studies is 'both scientifically damaging and unfair', a special issue of the journal Cell on human genetics has found.


Despite efforts to include people of more ethnically diverse backgrounds in research, people of European ancestry continue to be vastly overrepresented and minority-ethnic populations largely excluded from human genomics research.


The key issue with a disproportionate representation of white researchers compared to those of more diverse ethnic backgrounds is that views, approaches and ideas which initially surround the research, and the findings that follow, are centred on Western civilisation, or a biased view that favours it over non-western civilisations.


A Eurocentric perspective is far different from an Afrocentric, Asiancentric or even Latinocentric perspective, which are typically culturally grounded and practice-based models, that affirm, codify, and integrate common cultural experiences, values, and interpretations that cut across people of each respective descent.

Image credit: The New Yorker

In regard to the world of medicine and genetic science, the Western bias in the data limits scientists' understanding of the genetic and environmental factors influencing health and disease, as well as limiting the ability to develop new and potentially more effective treatment approaches.


A human evolutionary geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania, Sarah Tishkoff, and co-author of Cell's special issue said: "Leaving entire populations out of human genetic studies is both scientifically damaging and unfair - we may be missing genetic variants that play an important role in health and disease across ethnically diverse populations, which may have deleterious consequences in terms of disease prevention and treatment".


Worryingly, the lack of diversity in human genomics studies is likely to amplify health inequalities.


For example, approaches that are being developed to predict a person's risk of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease or diabetes, are primarily based on calculations formulated on the evidence from mostly European populations and may not apply to people of other ethnic backgrounds.


Researchers are calling for a more coordinated effort to increase diversity in human genomic studies, targeting the inclusion of ethnically diverse populations and the development of infrastructure for genomics research in neglected populations.

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