- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003


Howard University hopes to create the nation’s largest bank of DNA from black Americans with the aim of studying genes involved in diseases that disproportionately strike that community.

The DNA bank isn’t funded yet, but the university announced yesterday that it would work with a well-known database company, First Genetic Trust Inc., to develop the project.

The goal is to gather samples from 25,000 persons over five years, mostly patients at hospitals associated with the historically black university in the nation’s capital.

The planned program is one of several projects under way nationwide to study genetic differences among certain populations.

Research shows that the DNA sequence of any two persons is 99.9 percent alike, regardless of race. But subtle variations in genetic structure, called polymorphisms, can affect greatly an individual’s risk of disease.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has begun a $100 million effort to identify disease-causing polymorphisms, called the International HapMap Project. It is analyzing genetic patterns in blood samples taken from people in Nigeria, Japan and China and from people of northern and western European ancestry in the United States.

While that and many other gene-tracing projects under way will include DNA from multiple populations, Howard University’s DNA bank project would focus on black Americans — and largely those who have asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer or obesity, conditions the university is researching.

Howard has experience with such genetic studies, working with the NIH on smaller projects searching for genetic clues on why black Americans are at greater risk for some of those diseases. The university also is spearheading an international study hunting for genetic clues to diabetes risk in Nigeria, Ghana and here.

A lot of research on diseases that strike minorities disproportionately has focused on income and other social differences, noted Georgia Dunston, director of the university’s National Human Genome Center. New genetics tools will allow researchers now to see how genetic vulnerabilities interact with social conditions to spur disease, she explained.

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