Jan 11, 2007

Race-based Medicine: Reality or an Illusion?

  • Despite the fact that most biologists and anthropologists emphasize that there is no such thing as a biological race, one still hears talk, even among some scientists, about people belonging to one race or another. Indeed, since the advent of pharmacogenomics and the FDA’s decision two years ago to approve BiDil for use by black Americans suffering from heart failure, the term “race-based medicine” has become popular.

    One evolutionary biologist thinks the concept is poppycock. Joseph L. Graves, Jr., Dean of University Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at North Carolina A&T State University, says there is no strong genetic differentiation between human populations. As a result, a discussion about human biological races is meaningless. In this week's GEN podcast, Dr. Graves notes that by focusing on the idea of race-based medicine, some researchers and physicians are going down the wrong path in attempting to treat diseases among various human groups.

    Dr. Graves also addresses such questions as: How much of a role has the study of a variable genetic response to pharmaceuticals played in the rise of the concept of race-based medicine? On what bases have a number of physicians and researchers seen a correlation between race, genetics and disease? What is the distinction between personalized and racialized medicine? Is there another way of looking at genetic differences meaningfully from a medical perspective without relying on the idea of race-based medicine?

    We invite you to listen to the podcast then return to the blog to answer the following question:

    Do you believe in a biological basis for race-based medicine? Why or why not?