What Is a Population? Investigating Race, Ethnicity, and Ancestry in Genomics Research and Clinical
Alice Popejoy is a Stanford postdoctoral scholar who studies biomedical data sciences, and speaks to the role — and pitfalls — of race, ethnicity and ancestry in research.In clinical research, scientists often invoke race, ethnicity and ancestry to better understand underlying factors that contribute to disease, even when the connection is not quite clear. This approach is prevalent in clinical genetics, a field of study that harnesses genetic testing to understand aspects of a patient’s personal health. But while race- or ancestry-based information can play an important role in health research — such as ensuring a particular clinical study represents diverse populations — its use in science can be misguided. Popejoy studies the intersection of public health and genetics. Including race, ethnicity or ancestry in a scientific study can produce misleading results that present sociocultural factors, such as race, as a biological cause of certain diseases — when, in fact, environmental factors or actual biology, such as genetic mutations, may underlie the disease.