Cancer geneticists tackle troubling ethnic bias in studies

Multi-million efforts are underway to fill long-standing gaps in genomic data from minority groups.

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When Bárbara Segarra-Vázquez’s breast cancer came roaring back last summer after a 13-year hiatus, her physicians recommended surgery and a genetic test to determine whether chemotherapy was warranted. The test results suggested that she could forgo the drugs, and she did. But a nagging doubt remains.

“The validation of that test was done in white Europeans,” says Segarra-Vázquez, dean of the School of Health Professions at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, who is Latina.

Her story illustrates a long-standing bias in cancer research: most studies and genetic databases are populated mainly by data from people of European descent. This knowledge gap exacerbates disparities in cancer incidence and outcomes around the world. In the United States, for example, African American men are about twice as likely as white men to die of prostate cancer.

But researchers who study these inequities say they are encouraged by renewed interest in closing the data gap from their colleagues and funders, including the US government.

By: Heidi Ledford/Nature News

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