Paul R. Lehman, Study of Alzheimer’s disease in blacks creates confusion

April 21, 2013 at 11:57 am | Posted in African American, Alzheimer's disease, American Racism, blacks, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, identity, mixed-marriage, public education, skin color, U. S. Census, whites | 1 Comment
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The need for our society to divorce itself from the use of color as an identity becomes more apparent every day. For example, an article by Daniel Chang in the Miami Herald (4/11/13) titled “Researchers identify possible new gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease in blacks” creates more questions than it answers. What good is a study that uses unreliable information? We are certainly not against studies that can be beneficial to society and strongly support them, but not studies that seem a waste of time and money such as the one mentioned above.
Chang states that “University of Miami medical school researchers working with geneticist and physicians from other institutions have identified a new gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease in blacks…” Let us stop here and ask the question—how are blacks defined? Did the study select African Americans to participate in the study and refer to them as blacks? We are not told. If the study uses the word black as an identity does it refer to only people with black or dark complexions? If the study used African Americans and referred to them as blacks, how does the study account for the African Americans of light or fair complexions? If the study refers to people with black skin or dark complexions, then it would not be limited to people in America. Since we are not told just who the study subjects are except for the word blacks, we are at a loss to understand the value of the study.
One of the major discoveries of the Human Genome study involving DNA was that all human beings are 99.9% alike. They discovered that since all humans belong to one race that discerning a race from DNA was not possible: “DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.” ( For some reason the people working on this study did not get the memo.
The article continued by noting that “While Alzheimer’s occurs as frequently in blacks as other populations, researchers say there are important differences in the molecular mechanisms of the disease among people of different races and ethnicities.”What and who are we to believe? The study on DNA says that race cannot be determined, yet, this Miami study says it can. We need all the helpful information we can get to help in treating and curing Alzheimer’s disease, but we also need reliable information. When confusion regarding the existence of race is in question, the results of any study that does not clearly define its subjects will be suspect. We are told by Chang that “The study that led researchers to identify the gene, called ABCA7, will be published …in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month. Why?
The Miami study seems to directly undermine the findings of the Genome Project when it makes reference to “different races” and when it apparently identifies blacks as a race. One must question the logic of their statement that “Identifying these differences could help researchers develop treatments and drugs that are more likely to be effective because they’re tailor-made for an individual’s genetic make-up.” The individual in reference to the statement belongs to a black race? We thought that the study focused on a group of people—black people with the same gene, but now we are told that drugs will be “tailor-mage for an individual’s genetic make-up.” Are the people in question black complexioned or just called black rather than African American? The confusion continues because the subjects of the study were not clearly defined.
Chang does provide the following information:”The research project that led to the discovery of the new gene is believed to be the largest genome-wide association study conducted on late-onset Alzheimer’s disease in blacks.” Again, we must assume that blacks is a reference to what or who? He continues “It [the study] included 1,968 cases and 3,928 controls collected at multiple sites between 1989 and 2011. We do not know anything about these cases except some were controlled.
The ridicule made regarding this Miami study is not directed to Daniel Chang, he simply reported the story. The complaint falls to the creators of the study for not clearly defining their subject by ethnicity or by referring to people having the same “new” gene ABGA7. Since race is not possible to discern except by color, restricting the treatment to blacks could negatively affect other people, non-blacks with the “new” gene from receiving needed treatment. If the creators of studies involving human beings would focus on the problem rather that the supposed race of the subjects, more people might benefit from the study. Nothing prevents these study creators from using ethnicities or ethnic groups as the focused population to study, but using race and color dooms the study from the start.
So, what are we to make of this important study that focused on blacks? The ethnic make-up of American society is changing so quickly that the old form or system of identifying an individual based on his or her color is no longer effective. Many countries do not consider the skin complexion of their citizens as part of their personal identity. So, when any of these people come to America, they comes using their own unique identity, not one of black or white etc… The sooner we as a society stop using color and the concept of multiple races as valid or factual, the better off we will be, and studies that focus of specific cultural or ethnic groups will provide some benefit.


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  1. The next step is to study how the ABCA7 gene works in the brain, and the team still needs to validate the results of this study in another independent population of blacks, something that may be challenging.

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