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Race Research Moves Cautiously

Karen Augé, Denver Post, Apr. 19

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Statistically, African-American children suffer disproportionately from asthma.

The reasons for that, doctors and sociologists suggest, are obvious: Their parents are less able to pay for medication, they are more likely to have been born into neighborhoods where toxic chemicals and toxic stress blend into an unhealthy soup, and so on.

But recently, National Jewish’s own researchers threw a wild card into the equation: African-American kids need significantly higher doses of a common asthma medication to feel the same benefits.

Dr. Ronina Covar’s work isn’t the first to hint at genetic differences in how racial and ethnic groups respond to treatment or to disease.

And it’s not the first research on that topic to trigger passionate disagreement.

A cautious step forward

Critics charge that focusing on genetic differences among ethnic groups is a prelude to a return to the ugliness of eugenics, a reopening of wounds inflicted by the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, in which scientists withheld treatment from mostly illiterate black sharecroppers so they could observe the disease’s progression.

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And at Denver Health, where cardiologist Dr. Edward Havranek is leading a research team trying to address cultural barriers Hispanics face in getting medical care and at the same time to answer the mystery of what he calls the “Hispanic paradox.”

“If you look at risk factors — high cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, etc. — you would predict them to have much higher levels of heart disease than they actually have,” he said.

At the University of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center, Julie Marshall has been studying diabetes in the Hispanics of the San Luis Valley, where the disease is rampant.

In that isolated valley, rates of type-2 diabetes increase along with the amount of American Indian blood in a family tree.

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Original article

(Posted on April 20, 2005)

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