Race & Ethnicity

News

Nanibaa Garrison

Increased Diversity Needed in Genomic Databases

April 18, 2019

An article in Nature describes the need for more diversity in genomic research. As of 2018, 78% of data use in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) were derived from people of European descent. Last November, the Consortium sponsored a conference, "Law, Genomic Medicine & Health Equity: How Can Law Support Genomics and Precision Medicine to Advance the Health of Underserved Populations?" Among the speakers was Nanibaa' Garrison (Seattle Children's, University of Washington). Prof. Garrison, a member of the Navajo Nation, works with Native American leaders to address ethical concerns about genetic research within tribal communities. View her presentation, along with a related one by Native scholar Spero Manson (University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus). The conference, held at Meharry Medical College, was co-sponsored by the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, and the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative.

News

Hands of people of different skin tones reaching for scales of justice

Genomic Equity Conference Videos Now Available

January 10, 2019

On Thursday, Nov. 29 a group of eminent scholars and researchers convened at Meharry Medical College in Nashville to evaluate the current state of precision medicine and how access to it can be improved. Conference presenters shared a wide-ranging array of information about obstacles and solutions to delivering genomic medicine in clinical settings. Perspectives and research were shared by leading African American, Native American and Latino scholars, as well as those involved in immigrant rights and other civil rights issues. This national symposium is the first to discuss legal, policy, community outreach and clinical approaches to ensure that genomic medicine advances health equity and avoids worsening health disparities. The event was presented by the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Consortium, and the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative, and is part of the NIH-funded LawSeqSM project, which is dedicated to building a sound legal foundation for translating genomics into clinical application. View videos of conference sessions on our YouTube channel

Research

Pills in the form of a DNA spiral

Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) II: Toward Pharmacogenomics-Enabled Healthcare at Statewide Scale — Implementing Precision Medicine

MPMC’s new initiative is among the six interdisciplinary projects selected to receive Grand Challenges Research Interdisciplinary Team Awards from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. MPMC II focuses on one of the most mature domains of precision medicine – pharmacogenomics (PGx), which despite its proven scientific basis and immense promise has not yet been widely implemented in healthcare systems. 

Conference

News

DNA strands

DNA Testing Being Used to Reunite Families Separated at Border

July 9, 2018

According to an article in Scientific American, "Several DNA testing companies have volunteered their services to help reunite immigrant families separated at the southern U.S. border. But scientists and ethicists warn broad-based genetic tests are 'overkill' and do not make sense for making such matches." Consortium chair Susan M. Wolf is among them; she raises concerns about whether permission to undergo genetic testing in such circumstances is really given freely, one of the core requirements for obtaining informed consent — the article notes, "a parent faced with not getting their child back if they do not get a genetic test really has no option." Wolf goes on to point out problems with defining "family" solely by biological relationship: “What about the loving long-time caregiver who may not be genetically related to that child? Those families deserve reunification, too.” Despite such concerns, The Atlantic reports that the US Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it will conduct DNA tests in an attempt to comply with a court order from the US District Court in San Diego. The court declared that all minors from separated families need to be reunited with their parents or guardians by July 26. 

News

Logo of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

MPMC, Mille Lacs Band Partner to Reduce Lung Cancer Disparities

May 11, 2018

An article in the Brainerd Dispatch describes a new collaboration between members of the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe; together, they will "investigate aspects of lung cancer and nicotine metabolism from commercial tobacco use that may be unique to the American Indian populations in Minnesota." As part of this effort, researchers will conduct two pilot studies, one on the rate of nicotine metabolism in members of the Band and one on a new approach to lung cancer treatment and early detection. Pamala Jacobson, one of the leaders of MPMC, emphasizes the need for researchers to take the time to establish authentic, honorable working relationships within communities affected by health disparities. "For precision medicine approaches to be effective, we have to know how to apply this exciting new science to all populations, not just healthcare systems in metropolitan areas or those serving high income patients," said Jacobson. "Conducting the needed research and implementing precision medicine to benefit the health of American Indians and other minority populations is a priority." In addition to Prof. Jacobson, Consortium chair Susan M. Wolf is also an MPMC leader. To learn more, click here.

News

Prof. J. Neil Henderson

$10 Million Gift Will be Used to Found Native American Health Center

September 13, 2017

An anonymous donor has given $10 million to the Medical School at University of Minnesota, Duluth, which will be used to build on the school's already strong foundation in Native American health. According to the Duluth News Tribune, "In any given year, Native Americans comprise about 10 percent of the university's medical school class. . . . Moreover, the six faculty members at the school's Duluth campus who are Native American comprise about a quarter of all Native Americans on medical school faculties in the entire country. Only about 1 percent of the nation's doctors are Native American." Among those UMD faculty members is Prof. J. Neil Henderson, PhD, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation. He notes that the private gift, which has very few stipulations attached to it, could fund portions of research not covered by federal grants. Prof. Henderson spoke at the Consortium-sponsored research ethics conference last March, on the inter-cultural aspects of working with American Indian institutional research boards when conducting research. You can see his talk here.

News

Ilhan Omar

Minnesota Measles Outbreak Result of Anti-vaccine Efforts

May 18, 2017

More than 60 Minnesota children, mostly from the state's large Somali-American community, are infected with measles. The outbreak is a direct result of efforts by anti-vaccine activists such as Andrew Wakefield, the discredited researcher behind the film Vaxxed, who has visited Minneapolis and met with Somali parents. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the rate of measles immunization among Somali-American children has plummeted from rates as high as 92% in 2004 to just 42% today. Alarms were sounded in 2008, when it was reported that a disproportionate number of Somali-American children were participating in a preschool program for those diagnosed with autism. Some members of the Somali-American community have been alarmed by claims that autism can result from the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, concerns shared by a significant portion of the general public despite efforts by public health workers to combat that perception. An article in Snopes details how one discredited anti-vaccine study was recently published, then unpublished, by two academic journals, digging into the "suspect statistics and devil-may-care attitude toward methodological design" in the paper. Meanwhile, Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the US, is working with the Minnesota Department of Health to encourage vaccination and rebut myths about autism, an effort that is showing results.

News

Baby

Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality Examined

February 16, 2017

An article in The Nation, "What’s Killing America’s Black Infants?" provides a sobering analysis of the disproportionately high death rate among African-American babies. Despite decades of interventions and public health initiatives, the racial infant mortality gap actually grew during the 1980s and 90s: during that time, "Black women who received prenatal care starting in the first trimester were still losing children at higher rates than white women who never saw a doctor during their pregnancies." This led to research into whether black women have a genetic predisposition to poor birth outcomes, which was largely disproven. However, more recently, "a growing body of evidence points to racial discrimination, rather than race itself, as the dominant factor in explaining why so many black babies are dying." The article profiles efforts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has one of the worst infant-mortality rates of all US cities, to reverse the trend.

News

Nurse taking man's hearbeat with stethoscope

Health Disparities Training and Funding Opportunities

October 28, 2016

Prof. Kola Okuyemi, MD, MPH, has been awarded a $1.5M grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to educate researchers about reducing cancer-related health disparities among underserved populations. Prof. Okuyemi, Director of the Program in Health Disparities Research, says these trainings are designed to "prepare predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees with the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct cancer-related health disparities intervention research." In related news, the Center for Healthy African American Men through Partnerships (CHAAMPS), a joint program of the University of Minnesota and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), has announced two funding opportunities: Pilot Projects (4-6 grants available to faculty from Minnesota, UAB, Johns Hopkins University, MD Anderson Cancer Center and UC Davis) and the Scholars Disparities Program (2-4 grants available to grad students, post-docs, medical residents, medical fellows and faculty at the same institutions). To learn more about deadlines, etc., click on the links above or contact Laurel Nightingale, MPH, MPP, CHAAMPS Collaborations Coordinator, at nigh0021@umn.edu.

Research

News

Sean Sherman, American Indian chef

Focus on American Indian Food and Nutrition

August 18, 2016

A group of chefs and scholars that has been working for decades to restore Native American food traditions is experiencing new momentum. One of them is Sean Sherman, who draws from the indigenous cuisine of Midwestern tribes like the Lakota and Ojibwe, precolonial food cultures that were supported by sophisticated trade routes and intra-tribal cultural exchanges. Mr. Sherman plans to expand his catering business, Sioux Chef, to include a restaurant in Minneapolis that will not only feature Native American foods and bring jobs to the local community, but also serve as a driver for American Indian-owned food businesses like those he uses to supply walleye and wild rice. Want to learn more? On Sept. 26-27, the First Annual Conference on Native American Nutrition will be held in Prior Lake, Minnesota. The event is cosponsored by Consortium member center Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and will bring together tribal officials, researchers, practitioners, and others to discuss the current state of knowledge about Native nutrition and food science. Register here.

News

Arrest disparities in the Twin Cities map

U Professors Shine a Spotlight on Racial Disparities

July 21, 2016

In the wake of another fatal police shooting of an African-American man, Philando Castile, who was killed during a traffic stop in a Twin Cities suburb, there's been an increased focus on racial inequities in Minnesota. One of the scholars with the longest history of studying these issues, Myron Orfield, JD, is on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's Law School; since Castile's death, Orfield has been widely interviewed discussing housing segregation, unequal policy enforcement, and other aspects of the state's institutionalized racism. Minnesota suffers from a yawning academic achievement gap between white students and students of color; the worst record of financial inequity in the nation; and a serious problem with socioeconomic and health disparities. A recent lecture hosted by the Consortium, by Prof. Sidney Watson, JD (University of St. Louis Law School) describes tools in the Affordable Care Act to increase health justice; that talk can be viewed online

News

White Tuskegee researcher drawing blood from Black man

Legacy of Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment Revelations: Reduced Life Expectancy for Black Men

June 14, 2016

Since it was revealed in 1972, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male has been considered among the most egregious violations of research ethics during the 20th century. The study began in 1932; for 40 years, researchers passively monitored hundreds of adult black males with syphilis, despite the availability of effective treatment. The study was funded by the US Public Health Service (PHS), and only concluded when PHS employees alerted journalists, having been ignored or rebuffed by their employer. A newly published paper outlines the tragic legacy: "the historical disclosure of the study in 1972 is correlated with increases in medical mistrust and mortality and decreases in both outpatient and inpatient physician interactions for older black men." The authors of the study estimate "life expectancy at age 45 for black men fell by up to 1.4 years in response to the disclosure, accounting for approximately 35% of the 1980 life expectancy gap between black and white men." At last December's Consortium-sponsored Research with Human Participants conference, Prof. Vanessa Northington Gamble, MD, PhD (George Washington University) discussed her work as Chair of the federal committee that obtained an official apology for the study from President Bill Clinton in 1997 -- view her talk here

News

Biospecimens in lab

Controversy Erupts on Informed Consent for Biospecimens

May 16, 2016

A new proposal by the Obama administration would require scientists who work with human biospecimens to obtain consent from patients prior to using them in research, even when all personal information is removed. The proposed change is part of the revision of the Common Rule, the federal law used to govern research with human participants, which is currently under review. In effect, the new policy would broaden the definition of "human subject" to include tissues, blood, and urine. Some scientists, medical device manufacturers, and advocacy groups are concerned about the chilling effect this could have on research, including the Precision Medicine Initiative. Bioethicists have raised issues about plans to offer new forms of consent, with Consortium collaborator Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD, of Vanderbilt University questioning whether those could be effective: “The idea that this informed consent will be in any way meaningful I think is illusory.” Read an article about the debate from STAT here

News

Prof. Brooke Cunningham

Racial Gaps and Health Disparities in the News

April 11, 2016

University of Minnesota faculty members have been making headlines for their work addressing connections between race and health care disparities. An article in STAT profiles Prof. Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD (Medical School), a physician and sociologist who recently taught first-year medical students about the dangers of misunderstanding the concept of race. In her lecture, Prof. Cunningham pointed out that race is not a fixed, scientific category, cautioning these future doctors to think critically about using racial characteristics in diagnosing and treating patients. Her lecture was part of a course taught by Prof. David Satin, MD (Medical School), whose recent scholarship on why black patients are sometimes undertreated for pain was profiled on PBS NewshourProf. Dorothy E. Roberts, JD (University of Pennsylvania) was also interviewed during the segment; her 2010 Deinard Memorial Lecture on Law & Medicine, "What's Wrong with Race-Based Medicine," can be viewed here.