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The steps they took for us to walk

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

By Tazkiah Salam

Ancestry refers to the lineage and heritage of a person and where their pre-disposers came from. The main difference between ancestry and ethnicity is that ancestry can track back to centuries ago while ethnicity is a more current “definition” of where you and your family come from. Certain genetic disorders are prevalent in specific ethnicities. This phenomenon then begs. The question of how much of a role our ethnicities truly play in our genetic predisposition. The risk of what genetic disorders we may end up having is not the only thing that our ethnicity can play a factor in. The way our body reacts to different medications can also be affected. For instance, certain groups of people are more likely not to have the lactate gene which leads to these people becoming lactose intolerant. Some people have genetically inherited diseases as well as Tay-Sachs disease, which is predominantly present in people of Jewish heritage. The Hemoglobin S allele is shown to be prevalent in people who are carriers of Malaria and in a geographic area with people who are exposed to falciparum malaria. The hemoglobin S allele can lead to blood cells becoming abnormally shaped and can eventually lead to sickle cell anemia.

Current issues that can occur with using data from health systems to map out treatment options is that these databases fail to encapsulate and take into account the ancestry of people as well as their ethnicity. Therefore, initiatives such as implementing BioBank programs help keep more data and samples of DNA ready for use to study. One program in particular at Mount Sinai helps store genomic information for various populations. Programs like this help to develop percentages of how many people are at risk for a particular genetic disorder. For instance, from a study done at Mount Sinai, the BioBank helped reveal that about twenty-five percent of the participants had ties to Ashkenazi Jewish and Puerto Rican which then made them at risk for certain diseases.

Studies have shown that the proportion of 1 person out of a group of people having a genetic disorder usually ranges from 5%-30%. The frequency varies for each race and ethnicity which makes it difficult to differentiate which factors truly do play a role. Therefore, since other factors cannot be ruled out they have to be taken into account as well. For instance, factors such as lifestyle and environment can also be analyzed and contribute to a person’s risk of predisposition to a particular disease. A person who drinks alcohol on a daily basis and indulges in other harmful substances is more likely to develop liver issues versus someone who does not drink as much or other drugs. A person that lives in a polluted neighborhood is more likely to develop asthma or other breathing issues than someone who lives in a neighborhood with cleaner air.

Health disparities are present in any community with any type of inequality in terms of social class. Studies show that women from minority backgrounds are more likely to face discrimination or unequal treatment at their doctor's appointments than white women. These studies also show that the women who face this treatment are less likely to stand up for themselves as well. This shared lesser-known experience demonstrates an interrelated relationship between genetics and social aspects. A person could have a treatable disease or one that could be mediated but if they are not met with the proper care and treatment then they do not really stand a chance. Overall, a person’s genetics is not the sole factor that can influence the outcomes for their health.


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