Personalizing Medicine to Relieve Healthcare Disparities

Last week, we announced the winner of our essay contest for a free ticket to this month’s Personalized Medicine World Conference. Over the next couple weeks we’ll be featuring more of the inspiring essays we received. Today, we feature an essay by finalist Jetaime Ross, an aspiring genetic counselor who is passionate about resolving healthcare disparities.“Why I Want to go to PMWC” by Jetaime Ross  
In the past the world has been dramatically changed by inventions ranging from penicillin to the personal computer. Every era is defined by innovation, and I believe the next innovative influence will come from the field of genetics and personalized medicine. Because of the affordability of full genome sequencing and the ability to predict disease predispositions the quality of life will be improved and extended. I believe there will be a higher demand for people who are able to interpret complex genetic concepts and genetic tests for disease susceptibility. The genomic era will open up new questions regarding personalized medicine that will cause the scientific community to reevaluate some aspects of medical ethics that will ultimately have an effect on health policy. The average person will have to become more knowledgeable of genetics and technology thus relying on scientists and genetic counselors to relay helpful and accurate information about the consequences and risks of testing. I am concerned that because of the history of medical ethics in relation to minority communities, people of color will not be in a position to benefit from the positive consequences of genetic information and technology. I am currently in the process of applying to genetic counseling master’s programs. One of my goals for wanting to become a genetic counselor would be to bridge the grim historical and cultural divide in medicine. Attending the Personalized Medicine World Conference would be in invaluable asset to build upon my foundation of knowledge as it relates to personalized medicine.My interest in the genetic basis of disease began my second year of college. I was taking my first biology course taught by a scientist who had recently received a patent for a plant that was found to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells in vitro. As someone who had experienced a pattern of this disease throughout my family, I was compelled to know more. I came to learn that this was a far more complex disease than I had initially perceived. I was interested in not only understanding as much as I could about cancer but also the possibility of participating in a project with aims to offset the harsh ramifications of the disease. The following semester I asked to join the professor’s laboratory and was granted permission. I immediately began working on a project that I would later expand into my Master’s thesis from the same laboratory entitled “Additive and Cytotoxic Effects of Veronia amydalina in Human Carcinoma Cells.”I became aware through scientific literature related to my project in the lab that African-American women were disproportionately affected by breast cancer. I increasingly learned that this issue was not limited to cancer but could be observed in a variety of other diseases. During a conference at The University of North Texas Health Science as a summer intern I learned the term for this phenomenon was health disparities. I felt so intimately connected to this issue. Many people in my family died prematurely from various types of cancer. Could they have been victims of health disparities? I ruminated on how this inequity could exist when laws have been put in place to presumably create equality. Knowing about health disparities only increased my interest and commitment to becoming a part of the solution of  resolving health disparities in my community.As a genetic counselor I will use my expertise to reach out to underprivileged groups to inform them of the benefits of genetic counseling and how their lives can be positively affected by being more knowledgeable of their genetic disease history. Attending the Personalized Medicine World Conference will afford me the opportunity to network with similar minds as well as broaden my horizons in the field of genetics and personalized medicine.
  • K. Stone

    The issues raised in this essay are among the many reasons why there has been an on-going movement to establish minority health coalitions around the country. One focus of such health coalitions is to raise awareness and negotiate funding to provide screenings for breast cancer and related diseases like ovarian cancer for those who typically lack access to routine medical care.. Genetic counseling is a relatively new addition to the toolbox; and a welcome one.

    For far too long, people of both genders have not been taught to examine certain parts of their bodies for signs of abnormalities; as if body parts like breasts and testicles are something to be shrouded in shame and never to be discussed. We need to start early on in teaching young people of the importance of health for every part of their bodies; so that we might stop the progression of certain diseases at the start; rather than be relegated to bemoaning the costs of a lack of awareness of how a health body should function.