Race in the Age of Personalized Medicine

On one hand, it may seem that physicians should consider their patients’ racial background when making diagnostic or treatment considerations. For example, certain blood pressure medications work better than others in African-American patients. But on the other hand, not only are racial boundaries fluid; features we have thought of as racial are often not. For example, sickle cell trait is more common in the Greek town of Orchomenos than it is among African-Americans.

Today’s The New York Times has an interesting essay about the need to go deeper and move beyond racial thinking when it comes to genetics, but to perhaps keep racial awareness when it comes to considering social or cultural risk factors for disease.

“Science seeks to categorize nature, to sort it into discrete groupings to better understand it. That is one way to comprehend the race concept: as an honest scientific attempt at understanding human variation. The problem is, the concept is imprecise. It has repeatedly slid toward pseudoscience and has become a major divider of humanity. Now, at a time when we desperately need ways to come together, there are scientists — intellectual descendants of the very people who helped give us the race concept — who want to retire it.”

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