New York, NY (June 19, 2019) -- More than three-quarters of genomic data is derived from people of European descent, leaving other ethnic groups understudied. To address this problem, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and a number of other academic centers have analyzed the genomes of nearly 50,000 non-European individuals to maximize genetic discovery and lessen clinical disparities. As described in a paper published today in Nature, this collaborative study revealed nearly 1,500 associations between genes and disease in minority populations, serving as a prime example of what racially inclusive research can bring.
The study, known as PAGE--Population Architecture using Genomics and Epidemiology--was founded by the National Human Genome Research Institute and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to research the correlation between genetics and disease in ethnically diverse individuals in the United States. In analyzing the genetic code of these diverse populations and comparing them to those of European descent, researchers identified 27 new genetic associations that have not been found previously in European populations, but have the potential to be transferable to other groups that share components of genetic lineage, such as African ancestry, which can be found in both African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. Given that these two groups remain the most understudied populations in genomic research, Mount Sinai and Fred Hutchinson researchers are left wondering what other ancestral associations remain undiscovered.
"To date, millions of genomes have been sequenced, but ethnic diversity remains an unmet need," said Eimear Kenny, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Genetics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Director of the Center for Genomic Health, and co-senior author of the publication. "Because the availability of non-European genomic data is limited, much of the existing clinical therapies disproportionately benefit those of European descent - further widening the health disparities gap."
Christopher Carlson, PhD, Associate Member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson and co-corresponding author of the publication, added, "Previous articles have alluded to the need for multi-ethnic diversity in genome-wide studies, but this study is among the first to clearly delineate the scope of the problem, using detailed analyses of minority genetic samples."
As we enter an era of a more racially diverse America, the need to understand the genetic underpinnings of disease affecting nonwhites has become increasingly crucial--especially with the widespread adoption of precision medicine, a medical model focused on treating and preventing illness by means of genetic evaluation.
The newfound connections between genes and disease in ethnic minorities uncovered in this study not only indicate that we have more work to do, but most importantly, that an increase in analysis of non-European populations could mean increased clinical options for all.