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.