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Genetics Could Disrupt Pursuit Of Using DNA To Tailor Medicine

Armen Hareyan's picture

"Recentdiscoveries about our genetic makeup have turned medicine, science and even ourlegal system into high-stakes players in a DNA lottery, one that could affectthe treatment people receive for cardiac care, diabetes and otherdiseases," Karla Holloway, a Duke University law professor, writes in a Raleigh News & Observer opinion piece.

Holloway writes that "extracting DNA information ... is so closely tied tothe complicated issue of race in this country that it seems impossible toseparate the two." Holloway makes reference to BiDil, the first heartdisease drug specifically targeted to blacks, noting that not all blacksphysically appear or identify themselves as black. She asks, "[W]hat kindsof determinations do physicians make before they consider BiDil as a treatmentoption? ... Exactly what percentage of African ancestry must one have to merita particular drug marketed to black folks?"

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She adds that the "goal of genetic science is appropriately targetedtoward medical decisions that are individual. A person's genetic makeup willone day lead to very specific, indeed individualized medical advice. But aslong as we equate genetics and race, we bring along a set of biases that coulddisrupt this important medical objective and urge the short cut of race as astand-in for the scientific question." Holloway writes, "It's aslippery slope that could discourage our consideration of medically significantissues such as nutrition, stress and lifestyle" (Holloway, RaleighNews &Observer, 11/15).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly HealthDisparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of TheHenry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.