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How diseases affect our community and how we respond to treatments can vary significantly from those of patients of European Ancestry. We are also underrepresented in clinical studies. But we are excited that there are Black scientists who have focused their research on genetics, technology, biology, and health equity to understand our specific needs better. Here, we want to spotlight four who are doing groundbreaking work that could help improve our health in the future.
Georgia Dunston, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Founding Director of the National Human Genome Center at Howard University
A pioneer among Black genetic researchers, Dr. Georgia Dunston, received her doctorate in human genetics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in the 1970s. While doing a post-doctorate research assignment, she collaborated with a noted scientist from the Human Genome Project on a study that examined how Type 2 diabetes manifested in West Africans compared to patients in Finland. Dunston also sought to understand what made people different and focused on populations from Africa because of the vast genetic variations. What fueled her research was to better understand the challenges African Americans face with organ transplants, diabetes, asthma, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. She helped bring national and international research collaborations that examined the diseases impacting us to Howard University.
Rick Kittles, Ph.D., Senior Vice President for Research, Morehouse School of Medicine
Dr. Rick Kittles is a biologist, geneticist, and health equity expert. He directed the African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study Network at Howard University’s National Human Genome Center. He also held positions at Ohio State University and the University of Illinois, Chicago. At the City of Hope in Duarte, California, Kittles was the founding director of the Division of Health Equities in the Department of Population Sciences and associate director of Health Equities in the Cancer Center. He focuses his research on prostate cancer and the intersection of race, Ancestry, genetics, and health disparities. He actively advocates for Black representation and participation in clinical trials and research. Kittles is also the co-founder of African Ancestry, a DNA testing company for us by us.
Jenina Jeff, Ph.D., M.S., Staff Bioinformatics Scientist at Illumina
Dr. Janina Jeff is a self-described population geneticist. She focuses on underrepresented populations studying the human genome to develop technology that predicts and develops disease treatments. “Think of your genome like a recipe, providing the instructions to your body to carry out the necessary functions for your survival,” she explains. “It can also describe some of the traits you were born with that make you uniquely you!” She notes that population geneticists combine their knowledge of genetics with computer science to create tools, like genotyping, that sort through genetic recipes faster. Jeff uses technology to predict and develop potential disease treatments in underrepresented communities. She also makes genetics more accessible as the host of In Those Genes, described as”A hip-hop-inspired podcast that uses genetics to uncover the lost identities of African-descended Americans through the lens of Black culture.”
Hadiyah-Nicole Green, Ph.D., Founder Ora Lee Cancer Foundation
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is one of the first Black women to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is already one of our country’s leading medical physicists. She has expertise “at the intersection of nanotechnology, immunotherapy, and precision medicine.” She has already developed a groundbreaking treatment that uses nanotechnology and lasers to kill cancer in mice in 15 days. She founded the Ora Lee Cancer Foundation, a 501c3 organization so that she could raise funds to begin human trials to test her discovery and make the treatment affordable.