Linking Ethnicity to Diseases May Create Disparities

Focusing on one ethnic group could exaggerate differences, leave others unprotected

TUESDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Linking ethnic identity to illnesses such as Tay-Sachs disease and breast cancer may exaggerate differences between ethnic groups and create disparities in testing and therapy, according to research published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Sherry I. Brandt-Rauf, J.D., of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues interviewed 30 genetic researchers who specialized in Tay-Sachs disease or breast cancer to determine the pluses and minuses of genetic research that focuses on a specific ethnic group, namely the Ashkenazi Jews.

While breast cancer research in Ashkenazi Jews has advanced knowledge of genes and associated clinical consequences, disadvantages to this kind of research exist. Ethnic identity may be a weak proxy for genetic differences. This type of research also limits attention given to other groups, which could create health disparities in terms of genetic tests and preventive treatments.

"Our findings cast doubt on the accuracy and desirability of linking ethnic groups to genetic disease," the researchers conclude. "Such linkages exaggerate genetic differences among ethnic groups and lead to unequal access to testing and therapy."

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