Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Socio-cultural, Genetic Data Work Together to Reveal Health Disparities

09.09.2009
When it comes to health disparities between different groups, how society sees people in terms of race might play a greater role than genetics, according to a new University of Florida study.

The study also showed that taking stock of socio-cultural factors might improve our understanding of how genes influence individual health — regardless of race.

Consider high blood pressure, a complex disease governed both by genetic and environmental factors. Not only was social classification better than genetic-based ancestry at predicting disease status, it also brought to light a link between a particular gene and blood pressure that was not apparent when only genetic ancestry was considered.

The study, to be published Wednesday (Sept. 9) in the journal PLoS ONE, is the first to rigorously combine both socio-cultural and genetic data to simultaneously test the relative contributions of each to racial inequalities in health.

“What’s really groundbreaking is that we’ve got both types of data and they’re of equivalent sophistication,” said co-author Connie Mulligan, Ph.D., an associate professor of anthropology and an associate director of the UF Genetics Institute.

The results suggest that previously reported associations between genetic ancestry and health might be accounted for by socio-cultural factors related to race and racism, and not necessarily to genetic differences between races. It also suggests that including socio-cultural factors can strengthen genetics studies and help reveal how social inequalities can lead to biological differences.

“We have to take seriously the way race shapes people’s experiences, the environments they live in and their life chances,” said lead author Clarence C. Gravlee, Ph.D., an assistant professor of anthropology at UF. “In day to day life, people often assume that race exists as biology. Most anthropologists and geneticists reject that idea and see race instead as a cultural construct. The point of our paper is that race is so embedded in our society that it affects biology by shaping the types of environments that people live in.”

How social and or genetic factors drive racial inequalities in health and the role of race in genetic and biomedical research are the source of much controversy and study. Some scientists see race as useful for pinpointing gene-based susceptibility to complex diseases, but others caution that looking at race from a purely genetic standpoint can mask social causes of racial inequalities.

“We have to look at these in a way that will allow us to tell the whole story, not from one side or the other,” said Jay Kaufman, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University and author of the upcoming book “Racing in Circles: Myths about Genes and Race in Biomedical Research.” Kaufman was not involved in the UF study.

In general, members of racial minorities in the United States suffer poorer health, and more die prematurely compared with their white counterparts. African-Americans are three times more likely than whites to die from high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.

“The sheer scale of inequalities in sickness and death deserves our attention,” Gravlee said. “Researchers have an obligation to explain the origins of these inequalities and to identify social factors that could be targeted for policy change.”

To examine the link between African ancestry and blood pressure, the UF team studied 87 adults in Puerto Rico, using two variables for which “race” is often used as a surrogate: genetic ancestry and social classification.

Genetic ancestry was assessed using gene variants that show large frequency differences among groups from different continents. Social classification was assessed by observers to estimate how people are perceived in everyday life in terms of skin pigmentation, or “color” (pronounced coh-lohr). The researchers found that the three major “color” categories had overlapping genetic ancestry, and that there was a strong link between “color” and blood pressure, but not between genetic ancestry and blood pressure.

Next, they looked at whether taking account of social factors changed our understanding of genes thought to affect hypertension. When only genetic ancestry was considered, no association was evident between candidate genes for hypertension and blood pressure. But when “color” and socio-economic status were included in the analysis, a significant association between the gene variant and blood pressure was uncovered.

“One of the important points here is that you can have an association between two biological variables like genetic ancestry and blood pressure, but it could be that the social and cultural implications of having African ancestry is what is driving this association,” Gravlee said.

Health differences could arise from differing stresses people face based on how society sees and treats them.

“There’s no doubt about the fact that perceptions matter,” Kaufman said. “This article reinforces the idea that if you don’t pay attention to how people are perceived you miss a big chunk of the story.”

The researchers found that the group of people who carried the associated genetic variant also contained multiple categories of “color” and socio-economic status. When these different socio-cultural categories were separated, the protective effect of the genetic variant became evident.

”What’s exciting about our study, is that we can show the value of including socio-cultural data by revealing a genetic association that would otherwise have been missed,” Mulligan said. “This is important in convincing other researchers that it is worthwhile to include nongenetic data in a genetic study rather than simply controlling for nongenetic factors.”

| Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.ufl.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals
23.08.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Treating arthritis with algae
23.08.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers devise microreactor to study formation of methane hydrate

23.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

ShAPEing the future of magnesium car parts

23.08.2017 | Automotive Engineering

New insights into the world of trypanosomes

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>