Book Release of Prof. Lundy Braun’s Breathing Race into the Machine

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Slavery, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States on 2014-04-15 19:20Z by Steven

Book Release of Prof. Lundy Braun’s Breathing Race into the Machine

Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
Program in Science and Technology Studies

This February, Royce Family Professor in Teaching Excellence, professor of medical science and Africana studies, and a member of the Science and Technology Studies Program, Lundy Braun released her new book Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics.

In her book, Lundy Braun traces the little-known history of the spirometer to reveal the ways medical instruments have worked to naturalize racial and ethnic differences, from Victorian Britain to today. An unsettling account of the pernicious effects of racial thinking that divides people along genetic lines, this book helps us understand how race enters into science and shapes medical research and practice.

In the antebellum South, plantation physicians used a new medical device—the spirometer—to show that lung volume and therefore vital capacity were supposedly less in black slaves than in white citizens. At the end of the Civil War, a large study of racial difference employing the spirometer appeared to confirm the finding, which was then applied to argue that slaves were unfit for freedom. What is astonishing is that this example of racial thinking is anything but a historical relic…

Read the entire article here.

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Approaching race as a social rather than biological construct

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2014-04-13 11:59Z by Steven

Approaching race as a social rather than biological construct

The Daily Pennsylvanian
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Laura Anthony

The Program on Race, Science and Society will examine the role of race in scientific research at upcoming symposium

In 1851, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine graduate Samuel Cartwright delivered a report to the Medical Association of Louisiana claiming that blacks’ health was improved by slavery.

He theorized that forced physical labor improved blacks’ inferior lung capacity, so slavery was actually a necessity to bettering their health.

Penn Law School professor Dorothy Roberts first heard this anecdote from a talk by Brown University professor Lundy Braun detailing the history of the spirometer, a medical device used to measure lung capacity.

Some spirometers historically, and even in modern medicine, adjust the measurements according to the race of the patient. Cartwright used the device to justify the need for continued slavery to protect blacks’ health. Braun’s presentation included a picture of a modern spirometer with a button labeled “race,” and through numerous conversations with medical students, Roberts has found that some medical students are still trained to use spirometers based on patients’ race.

For Roberts, this is a major problem. “My definition of race is that it is a political system to govern people based on invented biological demarcation, and it is not a natural division of human beings,” she said. “So it is much more plausible that inequities in health that fall along racial lines are caused by social determinants.”

Braun’s talk sparked an idea for a future project in the new program she developed at Penn this year called the Program on Race, Science and Society…

Read the entire article here.

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Penn symposium tackles race, science, and society

Posted in Articles, Forthcoming Media, Health/Medicine/Genetics, United States on 2014-04-06 04:26Z by Steven

Penn symposium tackles race, science, and society

Penn Current: News Ideas and conversations from the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania

Katherine Unger Baillie

Is race a biological category? How does race figure into scientific research, clinical practice, and the development and use of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals? And what can we learn from historical investigations into race that will inform today’s scientific and medical inquiries?

These are among the complex questions that will be addressed by panels of experts during the April 11 symposium, “The Future of Race: Regression or Revolution?”

The event is being co-hosted by Penn’s new Program on Race, Science and Society (PRSS), which is based in the Center for Africana Studies, and the Penn Museum. The Center for Africana Studies is also co-sponsoring the symposium. The event will be held in the Museum’s Widener Lecture Hall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The symposium is free and open to the public, though registration is required…

Read the entire article here.

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Ancestry Informative Markers Clarify the Regional Admixture Variation in the Costa Rican Population

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-04-05 19:48Z by Steven

Ancestry Informative Markers Clarify the Regional Admixture Variation in the Costa Rican Population

Human Biology
Volume 85, Number 5, October 2013
pages 721-740
DOI: 10.1353/hub.2013.0041

Rebeca Campos-Sánchez
Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica

Henriette Raventós, Associate Professor and Researcher
Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica

Ramiro Barrantes, Professor of Biology
Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica

The genetic structure of Costa Rica’s population is complex, both by region and by individual, due to the admixture process that started during the 15th century and historical events thereafter. Previous studies have been done mostly on Amerindian populations and the Central Valley inhabitants using various microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA markers. Here, we study for the first time a random sample from all regions of the country with ancestry informative markers (AIMs) to address the individual and regional admixture proportions. A sample of 160 male individuals was screened for 78 AIMs customized in a GoldenGate platform from Illumina. We observed that this small set of AIMs has the same power of hundreds of microsatellites and thousands of single-nucleotide polymorphisms to evaluate admixture, with the benefit of reducing genotyping costs. This type of investigation is necessary to explore new genetic markers useful for forensic and genetic investigation. Our data showed a mean admixture proportion of 49.2% European (EUR), 37.8% Native American (NAM), and 12.9% African (AFR), with a disproportionate admixture composition by region. In addition, when Chinese (CHB) was included as a fourth component, the proportions changed to 45.6% EUR, 33.5% NAM, 11.7% AFR, and 9.2% CHB. The admixture trend is consistent among all regions (EUR > NAM > AFR), and individual admixture estimates vary broadly in each region. Though we did not find stratification in Costa Rica’s population, gene admixture should be evaluated in future genetic studies of Costa Rica, especially for the Caribbean region, as it contains the largest proportion of African ancestry (30.9%).

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We Are all Mutants: Uncovering humanity’s vast diversity

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-03-24 20:42Z by Steven

We Are all Mutants: Uncovering humanity’s vast diversity

The Chronicle Review
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Paul Voosen, Senior Reporter

On the hunt for disease genes, researchers uncover humanity’s vast diversity

The first people to set foot on Barbados, a wind-battered eastern spur of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, came from the south, and relatively recently, no more than 1,700 years ago. Little remains of them: enough to know they were skilled farmers from the Orinoco Basin, in modern Venezuela. And like those of all humanity, their journey had started far earlier, when their ancestors, tens of thousands of years before, ventured out of Africa, across Asia, and into the Americas.

More people rolled in: The Lokano, clustered in scattered villages, hauling whelk and conch from the sea; and, in the 13th century, the Kalinagos, slipping on to the horizon in 50-foot-long dugout canoes. The Kalinagos reigned until the conquistadors. Hounded by European slavers, they fled windward to better defenses. By 1536, a Portuguese explorer could report Barbados as “uninhabited.”

It didn’t last. The English landed a century later and soon began importing slaves, ripped from their Ga, Igbo, and Ashanti communities in West Africa. By 1700, some 134,500 Africans lived in Barbados, in bondage; soon enough, 90 percent of Barbados’s population could claim African heritage, a percentage that holds true today.

A couple of decades ago, there was one more arrival: Kathleen C. Barnes, a graduate student and biological anthropologist from the University of Florida, who one day in 1991 walked into the emergency room of Barbados’s main hospital, the Queen Elizabeth. Throughout its human history, the island had had its share of plagues and troubles. Now Barnes was there to study a modern, quiet epidemic.

In a dedicated bay, child after child sat listless, worried mothers by their sides. The children were masked, inhaling medication for their wheezing, swollen airways. The machines hissed. Nearly one-fifth of Barbadians had asthma, far above the global average. Barnes wanted to find out why.

A native of a Virginia tobacco town known for housing the “Last Capitol of the Confederacy,” Barnes, who is white, grew up a witness to the civil-rights movement; in second grade, her school was forcibly desegregated. Trained initially as a nurse, she was troubled by the health disparities she saw in the United States. For example, African-Americans suffered from asthma far more than white populations did. There were many possible socioeconomic reasons. But Barnes thought it was mostly about pests.

Past research had tied some of the asthma rate in African-Americans to dust mites and cockroach feces, exposures that are more likely in poor communities. Barnes saw many similarities between African-Americans and the Afro-Caribbeans of Barbados, with one important caveat: Unlike residents of Baltimore, where she would go to work for decades as a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, the Barbadians had only just begun to live in homes conducive to household pests. A natural experiment had begun.

Barnes lived in Barbados for a year, running a lab across the street from the Queen Elizabeth, visiting homes to gauge their exposures. At the time, many Barbadians lived in chattel houses, movable wooden homes to which many residents had added bit by bit, enclosing them in concrete structures, with indoor plumbing. Dust mites loved the enclosed homes: Some of the levels Barnes measured were the highest ever recorded, she says. Surely that had to explain some of the asthma rate.

It probably did, as did other factors in a rapidly modernizing country: shifting diet and microbiome, rising obesity, wealth—the type of influences that are often lumped together as “environment.” But controlling for those, Barnes saw that a disparity still remained between people descended directly from Africa and those who came through Europe. Something more fundamental was at play, she realized. Something that would shape the next 20 years of her work.

“It seemed like the missing piece,” she said, “was understanding the genetic basis for these complex diseases.”…

…Let’s stop here to note: If you took any section of a person’s DNA and compared it with a stranger’s, no matter their ethnic background, odds are high they’d be identical. This is not platitude: These odds guide large-scale genome sequencing. They are fundamental. Humanity is deeply shared. It just happened that when it comes to asthma, for this one gene variant, people of European and African descent are distinct. At some point, after they diverged in ancient times, a mutation had taken hold. It wasn’t about race. It was about contingency. History.

“One thing we can’t do is use race as a proxy,” says Carlos D. Bustamante, a genetics professor at Stanford University and a Barnes collaborator. “It’s a very blunt tool. But we also can’t say there are no genetic differences across populations. Because it’s just not true.”…

Read the entire article here.

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I Just Discovered that I am “Black”

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-03-16 22:21Z by Steven

I Just Discovered that I am “Black”

The Thom Hartmann Program: “Renaissance Thinking About the Issues of Our Day”

Thom Hartmann, Host

All one has to do is to pay $99, spit something like 10 cubic centimeters of saliva into a test tube, send it to 23andme, and you too, can discover all the things you are but never thought that you were. I also discovered that I am a Neanderthal (no surprise there), a bit of an Ashkenazi Jew, a mixture of European backgrounds, and to the delight of my Hungarian friend Ria, distinctly part Hungarian although I have no idea how that happened. According to Ria, of course, that is where I got my intelligence, from a small segment of Hungarian DNA on Chromosome 1. Anyway, if I am ever feeling downtrodden and persecuted, I rest secure in the knowledge that I belong to several historically persecuted groups, including Sub-Saharan African, Jewish, and I suppose that Neanderthals were persecuted, too. Plus, I belong to the historically persecuted group known as left-handed people; in fact, I am in the mere 4% of the population who is completely left-handed. (I am also left-footed and left-eyed.) I do intend to write more about the handedness issue one of these days, most likely venturing where no blogger has ever ventured before. But for now, it’s about genetics…

Now, speaking of beginnings, let me go back to the beginning. My eldest brother, Craig, is a geneticist. Around Christmas break, he arranged for me to take the 23andme genetics test — which, being a geneticist, is of great interest to him, and being a scientific-minded psychologist, is of great interest to me as well. The testing kit was sent to me in early January and I promptly gave the saliva sample and sent it back to 23andme…

…Overall, this genetics testing was an interesting and potentially useful learning experience. All life on the planet came from the same primordial ooze, and all humans came out of Africa, earlier for the Neanderthals, and merely 60,000 years or so ago for other humans. In that sense, we are all Africans. Our genetics reflect a combination of different ancestry and mutations, and over time, as modern life brings peoples of the world closer together, the genome in the melting pot mixes even further. Probably nearly everyone has more mixed heritage than we are aware of, as it is, and that’s a good thing — much better than it is to be inbred. Furthermore, human evolution appears to be accelerating, according to people who study human evolution. We have created a world of great flux. Bringing us closer together as one humanity, and working to overcome our differences, and to defeat those forces of selfishness within us and among us — forces with such aims as world domination — should be our common goal.

Read the entire article here.

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Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race and Gender – Dorothy Roberts

Posted in Health/Medicine/Genetics, Live Events, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-03-07 17:09Z by Steven

Fatal Invention: The New Biopolitics of Race and Gender – Dorothy Roberts

University of California, Berkeley
Alumni House
Friday, 2014-03-07, 17:00-19:30 PST (Local Time)

Join us for a discussion with Prof. Dorothy Roberts, University of Pennsylvania Law School, author of Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century.  Lecture organized by the group, Politics of Biology & Race, a UC Center for New Racial Studies working group, and co-sponsored by the Center for Race & Gender and the Haas Center for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Dorothy Roberts, an acclaimed scholar of race, gender and the law, joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology and the Law School where she also holds the inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander chair.

Her pathbreaking work in law and public policy focuses on urgent contemporary issues in health, social justice, and bioethics, especially as they impact the lives of women, children and African-Americans. Her major books include Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011); Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books, 2002), and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (Pantheon, 1997).


Dynamic representations of race: processing goals shape race decoding in the fusiform gyri

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-03-02 02:33Z by Steven

Dynamic representations of race: processing goals shape race decoding in the fusiform gyri

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Volume 9 Issue 3 (March 2014)
pages 326-332
DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss138

Christian Kaul
Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science
New York University

Kyle G. Ratner
Department of Psychology
New York University

Jay J. Van Bavel, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology
New York University

People perceive and evaluate others on the basis of social categories, such as race, gender and age. Initial processing of targets in terms of visually salient social categories is often characterized as inevitable. In the current study, we investigated the influence of processing goals on the representation of race in the visual processing stream. Participants were assigned to one of two mixed-race teams and categorized faces according to their group membership or skin color. To assess neural representations of race, we employed multivariate pattern analysis to examined neural activity related to the presentation of Black and White faces. As predicted, patterns of neural activity within the early visual cortex and fusiform gyri (FG) could decode the race of face stimuli above chance and were moderated by processing goals. Race decoding in early visual cortex was above chance in both categorization tasks and below chance in a prefrontal control region. More importantly, race decoding was greater in the FG during the group membership vs skin color categorization task. The results suggest that, ironically, explicit racial categorization can diminish the representation of race in the FG. These findings suggest that representations of race are dynamic, reflecting current processing goals.

Read or purchase the article here.

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On Race, Medicine, and Reproduction: An Interview with Dorothy Roberts

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Interviews, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-02-20 07:59Z by Steven

On Race, Medicine, and Reproduction: An Interview with Dorothy Roberts

Bluestockings Magazine
Brown University
February 2014 (2014-02-14)

Dorothy Roberts is a scholar, professor, author and social justice advocate, and currently the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She has published a range of groundbreaking articles and books analyzing issues of law, race, gender, health and social inequality, including Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (1997), Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (2002) and, most recently Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century (2012). When she visited Brown University to discuss her latest work on race and health inequities, Bluestockings Magazine had the privilege of interviewing Prof. Roberts beforehand.

Sophia Seawell [Co-Editor-in-Chief]: To begin with, I was hoping that for those of us who aren’t able to come to your lecture if you could tell us what you’ll be speaking about and how it fits into what you’ve been working on lately.

Dorothy Roberts: I’m going to be talking about what I’m calling race medicine, which is the practice of treating diseases according to race both by using the notion that people of different races have different diseases and also that they experience common diseases differently. I argue that you can trace that practice in the United States from slavery, where the idea that Africans have different diseases was used to justify enslaving them, and also explained resistance to enslavement as a form of mental illness.

Race medicine has been used to treat social inequality as if it’s natural, and that’s a way to justify repression and to steer attention away from the need for social change. And so I show how those concepts and strategies that came out of slavery continue in contemporary medicine today, and how they’ve in fact been exacerbated by a new resurgence of the concept of biological races in genomic science, biomedical research, and medical practice.

So it’s a little bit of history, but I’m mostly looking at the way that treating disease as race-based and using that as a way to explain social inequality, especially racial inequality, has travelled across the centuries. We can’t believe that today, because we live in a liberal democracy and doctors say that they’re not racially biased, that we shouldn’t worry about it anymore.

SS: The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about race-based disease is high blood pressure in African Americans.

DR: I’ll use that example in my talk. I point out that it’s commonly thought among doctors and biomedical researchers that hypertension is higher in African Americans because of some innate difference—today it’s explained as a genetic difference—but actually these ideas originated before there was even knowledge of genetics, only now they’re cloaked in genetic terms.

I’ll mention a study conducted by a researcher named Richard Cooper who looked at a number of global studies, did a meta-analysis and discovered that in fact across theses studies people of African descent have a lower rate of hypertension than white people. It’s just in the United States that Blacks have a higher rates than whites; Nigerians have a lower rate than the average of people of European descent around the world. That’s pretty strong evidence, and there’s lots of other evidence as well that to the extent that African Americans have higher rates of blood pressure in the U.S., it’s nothing innate. There have been all sorts of biological theories—the salt hypothesis claimed that the Middle Passage weeded out certain genes and so those who survived it had a gene pool that predisposed them to hypertension. It doesn’t make sense! Because first of all, Jamaicans, whose ancestors also crossed the Atlantic, have a lower rate of hypertension than whites in the U.S.

SS: But we just won’t mention that!

DR: And I’ll talk about some other new fangled and ridiculous genetic explanations.

SS: I was also wondering, on a different note, about your experience in academia as a woman of color—specifically, since you do so much writing on race, medicine and science, if your work has ever been criticized because it’s “not objective” because it discusses race, or that you’re trying to “read race” into things.

DR: I’ve certainly gotten that response—pretty frequently in audiences when I talk about my most recent book, Fatal Invention, and especially if I’m talking to a group of physicians or people who are doing biomedical research. With genetic counselors I’ve also gotten a very defensive response. People feel you’re accusing them personally of racism and they want to defend their use of race in their practice and in their research. I’ve found that there’s this desire to hold on to biological racial concepts that is very disturbing to me. There’s a lot of resistance out there.

I’ve also spoken to very receptive audiences, and audiences that weren’t aware of this resurgence of concepts of biological concepts of race in science—what I call a new racial science—and many are very grateful to hear this information; they’re alarmed, but happy to hear about it.

Others believe that race is a political category if not a biological category, and that includes many scientists who understand that. So I’ve also been welcomed by some for my book, but there still is this resistance I’ve met and often the argument is “well, you just don’t understand the science.” But the thing is I’ve read many of these articles that claim to show that there are race-based genetic differences or that racial differences in health can be explained genetically and there’s so many flaws in them. Just simple flaws, like not defining what the scientist means by race…

SS: It’s just understood to be a natural category.

DR: They just use the term! They don’t explain how they decided who among their research subjects gets grouped in which race. Most of them use self-identification or come up with some made-up, invented way of determination… there are just so many flaws. They often control for just one socioeconomic variable and if they continue to see that race has an effect they leap to the conclusion that it must be genetic—which is also bad research, bad science. But the basic flaw is that they’re using a social category as if it was a biological category or a genetic category, and it isn’t. So the very basis of their hypothesis that genes cause health inequities, for example, is flawed. And then the methods of flawed on top of that…

Read the entire interview here.

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On Race and Medicine

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2014-02-20 07:01Z by Steven

On Race and Medicine

The Scientist: Exploring Lie, Inspiring Innovation
Volume 28, Issue 2 (Febuary 2014)

Keith Norris, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, College of Medicine and Science
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California, Los Angeles

Until health care becomes truly personalized, race and ethnicity will continue to be important clues guiding medical treatments.

Clinical trials were traditionally conducted using predominately white male subjects. However, the 1993 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act required that all NIH-funded research involving human subjects, including clinical trials, have as diverse a participant cohort as possible, unless there were strongly justifiable reasons to do otherwise (e.g., limiting the study of uterine cancer to female subjects). One of the most significant advantages to the inclusion of diversity in clinical studies is that it enables the early detection of differences in the safety and efficacy of interventions among heterogeneous patient subgroups.

Most clinical trials, as well as large observational studies, now perform an elaborate set of statistical adjustments to account for the impact of key cohort characteristics such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity on study outcomes. Despite these sophisticated analyses, it is still uncertain whether these characteristics can accurately predict treatment response in an individual patient. While age and gender are strongly associated with biological differences that may have a significant impact on disease susceptibility and treatment response—and are thus carefully controlled for, sometimes by excluding certain groups such as children and/or elderly from trials—the role of race/ethnicity is far less clear. Indeed, unlike the case with age or gender, race has no consensus criteria for definition…

…At the same time, we must be mindful that generalizations filtered through the lens of race/ethnicity and other sociodemographic factors should not be used indiscriminately. In the setting of increasing admixture within and across racial/ethnic groups in a diversifying United States, there is a lack of concordance between today’s patients and traditional racial stereotypes. Fortunately, genomic data are already beginning to predict disease risk and treatment response, and advances will no doubt continue to improve their accuracy. The ultimate goal is to arrive at a point where medicine becomes so personalized that it is driven from a “fingerprint” of one’s biologic makeup, not from racial typecasting…

Read the entire article here.

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