Call for scientific community to increase diversity and inclusivity in medical research

Challenge the scientific community to increase diversity and inclusivity in medical research

95% of human cell lines used in countless medical research studies are of European descent. Photo credit: Peter Morris of the Children’s Medical Research Institute

In a joint report published today in cellScientists from Sydney and New York describe the critical global need to improve the diversity of cells used in medical research. Currently 95% of all human cell lines used in research are of European descent. The authors offer actionable steps that researchers and the biomedical community can take to foster greater inclusion in preclinical and basic science research.

The comment “Ancestry Matters: Building inclusivity into preclinical study design” was co-authored by Sophie Zaaijer, Ph.D., the co-founder of FIND Genomics (, a company that promotes reproducible cell-based science through its genetic cell tracking software “FIND Cell” and is affiliated with Cornell Tech, New York and by Amanda Capes-Davis, Ph.D., of the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) in Sydney, Australia. The authors emphasize that failure to act now could have far-reaching negative effects on the future of precision medicine for people of non-European descent.

Human cell lines play an important role in medical research. About a thousand cell lines are commonly used and stored, such as that of Dr. Capes-Davis founded CellBank Australia. The authors of this paper indicate that most of the most widely used cell lines originated in the 1960s and 1970s, and were predominantly from people of European ancestry.

“As the Black Lives Matter movement unfolded before our eyes, we saw this as an opportunity to highlight the same problem in the cells that we look at under the microscope every day – the timing seemed just right,” says Dr. Capes-Davis.

“In our report we explain how the lack of diversity has crept into biomedical research, unconsciously but systematically,” says Dr. Zaaijer. “Now is the time to correct this inequality.”

Dr. Zaaijer adds: “Take drug discovery as an example; a process that relies heavily on human cell lines for initial drug screening. If most of the cell lines used to discover new drugs are from people of European descent, you should use those drugs. ”Work equally well on non-European people? More and more evidence shows that, unfortunately, this is not always the case. “

Some diseases are more common in certain communities, such as the Ashkenazi Jewish community, which has high rates of genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and breast and ovarian cancer. The African American community has a relatively high rate of prostate cancer among men – yet only one in ten prostate cell lines regularly used in research is of African descent. Lack of diversity in prostate cancer cell lines means that initial screening of cancer drugs may overlook compounds that are particularly effective for African American men.

Why is science lacking various cell lines?

Lack of trust in medical research is a big reason why some communities are reluctant to donate cells for scientific discovery – and for good reason. Previous breaches of trust, such as the historical use of tissue samples without consent, affected the perception of research in the community. Recently, however, impressive efforts have been made to forge respectful partnerships between community groups and researchers to improve trust and inclusivity.

“A successful model of collaboration between underrepresented communities and the scientific community are the Māori in New Zealand, who have worked closely with researchers to develop guidelines for cell and tissue donation using culturally safe practices,” says Dr. Capes-Davis. “This type of initiative should be replicated and expanded globally.”

The conscious inclusion of diverse cell lines is important for personalized medicine

The biomedical landscape is slowly changing, partly driven by new funding models. In a new research initiative led by the New York Genome Center, leaders of the New York cancer research community have come together to advance cancer genomics and its practice in clinical care by leveraging the city’s large and diverse population. This innovative collaborative project, Polyethnic-1000, aims to deepen understanding of the contribution of ethnic groups to cancer incidence and behavior, thereby improving outcomes for many patients, especially those who do not currently have access to the latest advances in medicine. In September 2020, Polyethnic-1000 awarded grants to fund seven projects addressing the role of ethnicity in several major cancers and capitalizing on the diversity of patients treated in health facilities across the New York City area.

Given the genetic variation within the human population, providing personalized care is vital, “says Nicolas Robine Ph.D., director of computational biology at the New York Genome Center. You need hands-on laboratory experimentation to find a cure Using representative cell lines at this stage is key to progress. “

“If you or loved ones donate cells to science, don’t you want your cells to actually be used to develop effective treatments in the laboratory?” Zaaijer. “It is time to consider the inclusivity of cell lines in preclinical and basic research by laboratory scientists more consciously and strategically, out of respect for cell and tissue donors and to better serve the needs of all communities.”

In cell-based research projects in particular, change is not an easy process that can take many years. Improving diversity means changing habits and managing more cell lines to ensure that many ancestors are involved. It is precisely these efforts that can be a heavy burden for scientists who work with cell lines on a daily basis.

“We saw an urgent need for tools that make it easier to organize, collaborate and track cell lines,” says Dr. Zaaijer. To meet this need, FIND Genomics has developed a state-of-the-art software platform called FIND Cell, which is specially designed for digitizing cell cultures and integrates daily cell tracking and management with genetic verifications. “FIND Cell can help scale inclusive biomedical experimental design,” adds Dr. Zaaijer added.

In their report in cellThe authors suggest further measures to improve cell diversity that researchers, biobanks, publishers, funding agencies, and community representatives should consider. “We hope that in the long term we can help to find cures for everyone, but everything starts with becoming aware of the problem and working together on solutions,” says Dr. Capes-Davis.

Using gene expression data to compare cancer models in the laboratory with real tumors

Provided by the Medical Research Institute for Children

Quote: Calling the Scientific Community to Increase Diversity and Inclusivity in Medical Research (2021, May 13), accessed May 31, 2021 from inclusivity-medical.html

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