Medicine: The empirical reality of race
- News: California Case Highlights Rise of Racial Medicine
A recent medical case in California illuminates the importance of not merely
genetics, but racial genetics, in diagnosing and treating disease. Two
Chinese-American women were being treated for Long QT syndrome, a dangerous
hereditary heart ailment, when their doctors, Kathryn Glatter and Nipavan
Chiamvimonvat, both of the University of California at Davis, noticed that
their symptoms did not match those associated with the type of Long QT they had
beenn diagnosed with, a type identified and treated according to genetic studies
of whites. Using genetic studies of Long QT in Asians, Glatter and
Chiamvimonvat discovered that the two women had a quite different form of Long QT syndrome.
The doctors also found that the two sons of one of the Chinese-American
women had been misdiagnosed: the son being treated for Long QT did not have it,
while his brother, who had been thought free of the syndrome, suffered from it.
Dr.Glatter is outspoken on the need for racial and ethnic matches in medical
diagnosis and treatment: “You need to make sure you are comparing apples to
apples and oranges to oranges,” while Dr. Chiamvimonvat notes, “One cannot
assume that information from one group will fit all.” Other medical
researchers, such as Dr. Denise Johnson, who studies breast cancer at Stanford, are eager for studies of racial genetics in their fields: “I really want to compare Africans, African-Americans and mixed-race and see if there is a genetic profile. We didn’t have the tools before, but now we do.” Two important conclusions may be derived from the Long QT case and others like it (see “Race-Specific Drug…,”
TOH, July 7, 2004): first, American medicine is increasingly recognizing and
acting on racial differences, and second, contemporary doctors’ defiance of
taboos that long held sway even in the medical profession is powerful
evidence for the empirical reality of race.
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