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Stanford researcher aims to develop database built on DNA of Latin American descendants

Stanford geneticist Carlos Bustamante, PhD, and colleagues have spoken out before about the need to increase representation of underserved populations in genetics studies to advance personalized medicine.

Now Andres Moreno, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Bustamante's lab, is working on a project that aims to expand scientists' knowledge about the genetic makeup of Latin Americans.

Moreno was recently awarded $100,000 from the George Rosenkranz Prize for Health Care Research in Developing Countries to analyze the DNA of indigenous groups and cosmopolitan populations living in Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. His project will lay the groundwork for scientists interested in knowing how genetic diseases take hold and manifest themselves among Latin Americans, considered to be one of the most underrepresented populations in the field of genetics.

According to a Stanford Report article:

Scientists have found numerous genetic variants linked to complex traits among people with European backgrounds, and that connection has allowed doctors to better treat and prevent diseases in that group.

But without a rich database built on the DNA of people whose family trees are rooted in Latin America, researchers have yet to find the genetic key to explain why descendants of the region's indigenous populations are predisposed to particular conditions.

Obesity, for example, is more prevalent in Mexico than in other parts of the world, Moreno said.

"We need to find population-specific gene variants that don't exist anywhere else but locally," he said. "Then we can maybe find the gene behind obesity there."

Other conditions may be addressed by studying locally adapted populations, such as those living at high altitude in the Andes where pregnant women have a five-fold higher rate of maternal hypertension than the native population.

Racial imbalances in genetic research are one of several challenges scientists are working to address as they advance the field of personalized medicine. This week, Michael Snyder, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, is taking questions about the promise of genomics and how it may guide preventative medicine as part of our Ask Stanford Med series.

Previously: Blond hair evolved more than once – and why it matters, Non-European representation woefully lacking in genomics studies, say Stanford geneticists and Roots of disease may vary with ancestry, according to Stanford geneticist
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