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"Race," Genomics, and Health

Charmaine Royal is Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health (Division of Medical Genetics) and Director of the GenEthics Unit in the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. Dr. Royal received her B.S. in Microbiology, M.S. in Genetic Counseling, and Ph.D. in Human Genetics from Howard University. She then completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Bioethics and Special Populations Research Program of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
When Apr 14, 2005
from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 101 Pattee Library
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CHARMAINE D. M. ROYAL

 

Assistant Professor and Director, GenEthics Unit, National Human Genome Center, Howard University

Charmaine Royal is Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health (Division of Medical Genetics) and Director of the GenEthics Unit in the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. Dr. Royal received her B.S. in Microbiology, M.S. in Genetic Counseling, and Ph.D. in Human Genetics from Howard University. She then completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Bioethics and Special Populations Research Program of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Her areas of interest include: research on the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) of human genetics/genome research for African Americans and other peoples of the African Diaspora; establishment of genetics education programs for both the professional and public sectors of these communities; and development of domestic and international polices related to human genetics/genome research and genetic services. Dr. Royal has presented and published on the ethical and social dimensions of genetics research involving African Americans and other people of color, as well as on the psychosocial aspects of sickle cell disease and prostate cancer.

Dr. Royal is a member of several professional organizations and serves on a number of professional committees.

"Race," Genomics, and Health

Data from the Human Genome Project (HGP) and other research on human genetic variation is increasingly confirming that human groups cannot scientifically be categorized into units called races. The formalized taxonomic definition of “race” as evolutionary divergence below the species level denotes homogeneous, discontinuous entities with “natural” distinctions not susceptible to change. There is clearly a lack of corroboration between this well-established definition and the consistent scientific observation that human genetic variation is overlapping and continuous across ethnoancestral and sociodemographic groups, interacting at differing frequencies with various cultural, social, psychological, behavioral, and other non-genetic factors to influence health, disease, and other complex traits.

The (mis)application of the term “race” to humans, inspired by perceived notions of innate and immutable differences among human groups, has had tremendous societal ramifications, as ”observed” differences have historically been (and in many arenas, continue to be) construed as indicators of group inferiority or superiority. There is an urgent need for new terminology that more precisely describes the biogeographical, biological (including genetic), sociohistorical, and cultural variation that exists within and between human populations. In addition, the ethical responsibility for truth-telling and scientific integrity in biomedicine requires that the scientific community accurately communicate current knowledge about human populations and the relationships among them. Unfortunately, biomedical studies have traditionally fallen short in this regard by failing to demonstrate or even acknowledge the diversity (biological, cultural, etc.) within the populations of interest and the overlap or similarities between them. Instead, we are inundated with black-white-other comparisons that appear to assume a monolithic identity and biology for each group and discrete boundaries between.

A paradigm shift in the conceptualization and application of human genetic variation relative to our understanding of individual and group identity is indeed warranted. The scientific community must be a catalyst for social change in perspective and perception of the true nature and biology of human relationships as a factor in dissecting the constructs of health, disease, and overall well-being.