The Dangers of Race Based Medicine

The Dangers of Race-Based Medicine

An analysis of new drug therapies specifically targeted towards African American populations with hypertension.

I. Introduction to Contemporary Race-Based Therapeutics

On November 11th, 2004, NitroMed, a Massachusetts based pharmaceutical company published a study on the effects of a new drug called BiDil in treating heart failure among African Americans in the New England Journal of Medicine (Taylor 2049). Since announcing the study, NitroMed’s research has sparked controversy surrounding the ethical implications and scientific evidence of race-based medicine. This study marks a breakthrough in race-based drug treatments as the first pharmaceutical ever researched, endorsed and targeted for a single ethnic group (Pollack 1). The racially-specific pharmaceutical initiative is a product of tremendous government funding allotted by the Clinton administration to the Human Genome Project at the turn of the millennium. Since then, much medical research has focused on understanding the human genome in search of genetic explanations for health problems while funding and interest have decreased in social-related health research and medical programs for poor and underserved populations (Braun 162).

NitroMed’s study marks a growing movement that has begun to cite genetic makeup, specifically race-related genetic makeup, rather than environmental or other confounding factors as the source of disease. This shift in presumed cause of health-related problems raises many troubling implications. With race-based therapeutics comes the assumption that there are biological differences between races. The dangers of such implications are vast, the most pressing problem being the ambiguity of race, particularly with regard to genetic composition. Considerable studies have demonstrated the lack of genotypic correlations among members of a given race. Similarly, socioeconomic and other confounding variables have a profound impact on health and thus must be considered in the discussion of race-based therapeutics and research. This tension between social and biological conceptions of race is now at the forefront of discussion among scientific scholars seeking explanations for the relationship of disease and ethnicity (Foster 844).

The ultimate goal of pharmacogenomics, as stated by Henig, “would be for everyone’s genome to be analyzed indi...

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