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Testing for all: Improving representation in genomic studies

This webinar is brought to you by the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office

Testing for all: Improving representation in genomic studies

30 June 2021

12:00 p.m. ET

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Genomic testing holds great promise for precision medicine, yet one problem remains: lack of representation in the subject pool of genomic studies and products. People of European descent dominate most of these studies, while other populations are grossly underrepresented. Only a quarter of the world’s population is of Caucasian origin—the majority is Asian, followed by African and Latino. Failure to include racially and ethnically diverse populations in genomics research hinders actual progress in understanding human health and disease. For instance, a narrow pool of study subjects puts researchers at risk of missing genetic variants that happen to be rare in Whites, thus losing important diagnostic and therapeutic information. Underrepresentation also exacerbates existing health disparities, since lack of access to these tests, due to economic and geographic factors, hinders patients in underrepresented groups from receiving proper care.

Countries and biotech companies are starting to acknowledge this problem. Databases are being created, such as the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Initiative, the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. The latter plans to recruit 1 million diverse individuals, half of whom will be of non-European ancestry. New recruiting efforts aim to hire scientists who look like the individuals they hope to include, and difficult discussions about medical mistreatment of minority groups—such as in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment—are taking place in an effort to cultivate trust, equity, and collaboration with populations that have been left out of these conversations for too long.

Our expert speaker, Tshaka Cunningham, chief science officer at TruGenomix and executive director of the Faith Based Genetic Research Institute, will:

  • Discuss how genetics companies are trying to address the lack of diversity in genomic studies
  • Highlight various inclusion strategies such as the “honest broker” philosophy, messaging, and compensation
  • Provide examples of genomic studies that are successfully including more diverse subjects
  • Explain how polygenic tests are more robust through greater subject inclusion
  • Answer your questions live during the broadcast.

This webinar will last for approximately 60 minutes.

Speaker bios

Tshaka Cunningham, Ph.D.

Rockville, MD

Dr. Cunningham earned his doctoral degree in molecular biology, with a focus on virology, from Rockefeller University in New York. He completed his postdoctoral training in immunology and tumor immunotherapy at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, and at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He is currently the chief science officer at TruGenomix in Rockville, Maryland. He previously held the position of scientific program manager for the Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases Rehabilitation Research Program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) within the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Research and Development and worked as a research scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he developed biological screening assays to identify drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Cunningham served as a subject matter expert for the VA’s Genomic Medicine Implementation Program and convened the Million Veteran Program Diversity Working Group.

Jackie Oberst, Ph.D.

Washington, DC

Dr. Oberst did her undergraduate training at the University of Maryland, College Park, and her Ph.D. in Tumor Biology at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. She combined her interests in science and writing by pursuing an M.A. in Journalism from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Oberst joined Science/AAAS in 2016 as the Assistant Editor for Custom Publishing. Before then she worked at Nature magazine, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, The Endocrine Society, and the National Institutes of Mental Health.

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