News & Opinion | July 20, 2018 5:00 am

In Searching For a Cancer Cure, Scientists Ignored African DNA

Charles Rotimi believes researchers are ignoring Africa's rich genetic legacy.

dna cancer
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In 2005, Charles Rotimi was worried that genetics might exploit the one billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa and ignore their need for treatments for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and cancer. He believed the genomic revolution was going to fly over Africa, and that “tomorrow’s medicine will not work for all,” reports Newsweek. He was right.

Over the next few years, scientists came out with a multitude of discoveries about DNA that might help lead to new treatments for cancer, diabetes, psychiatric illnesses and other serious diseases. But researchers were drawing from a small subset of the world. Nearly all the published work was based on populations with European ancestry, writes Newsweek.

By 2009, fewer than one percent of the several hundred genome investigations included Africans.

Modern Homo sapiens originated in Africa around 200,000 years ago but  100,000 years later, about 1,600 men and women left the continent and spread around the globe, reaching Europe and the Americas.

“In other words,” wrote University of Washington geneticist Mary-Claire King and colleagues in a 2017 commentary according to Newsweek, “about 99 percent of our evolutionary experience as a species was spent in Africa.”