Insufficient diversity in cell lines does not allow minorities to take advantage of accurate medicine

Looking at a sample of "ethnically diverse" cell lines, researcher City of Hope found that most of them were of European origin, and the prostate cancer cell line was labeled African-American when it was of European origin

As the biomedical field develops therapies based on the individual's genetic make-up, Scientist City and Hope and colleagues found that some commercial cell lines used for countless lab studies have poorly marked ancestors as far as minorities are concerned.

So, for under-represented populations, it will take longer to take advantage of "accurate medicine," which is an emerging approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into account the genes, the environment and the lifestyle of the individual.

"Insufficient diversity is prevalent at all levels of biomedicine – from patient populations in clinical trials to procurement samples for scientific research," said Rick A. Kittles, Ph.D., director of the Healthcare Division of the City of Hope, and lead author of a new study. "How can we expect a sanitary canyon narrow when our basic scientific resources – cell lines for laboratory studies – are predominantly of people of European origin? Minors like me are not the primary recipients of most scientific innovations."

Study, published in the journal February 20 Epidemiology of cancer, biomarkers and prevention, followed 15 commercial cell lines used to study prostate, breast and cervical cancer. Cell lines were categorized based on their amount of origin from Africa, Native Americans and Europe. All previously classified white cell lines were accurately described with an average European origin of 97 percent, whereas cell lines classified as African-Americans were not always accurately described and had multiple mixed genetic backgrounds.

It should be noted that many scientists who examine the health differences between prostate cancer used a cell line called E006AA-hT, which is characterized as African American origin. Nevertheless, Kittles and colleagues found that the E006AA-hT is predominantly of European origin (91%) and may indeed be a case of renal cancer, not prostate cancer. This leaves the MDA-PCa-2b cell line as the only commercially available African-American prostate cancer cell line, Kittles said.

"This misprint can trigger memories of time in the United States, when Africans were identified as black if they had a distinct amount of African-American origin in their skin color," said Kittles.

Researchers also searched the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) for cell lines derived from normal and malignant breast tissue. They found that 71 percent of the samples were classified as white, while 13 percent were African-American. There was only one Hispanic and one Eastern Indian specimen.

"Disturbingly, demographic factors are ignored in key mechanistic studies that hamper the limiting potential of monoethnic cell models," the study said. "It is problematic because less represented racial / ethnic groups who are more likely to be affected by disproportionate morbidity and mortality remain poorly represented in biospecs available for research."

Estimates of genetic ancestors offer a more sophisticated characterization that could lead to improved protocols of disease prevention and treatment. As a result, Kittles and colleagues propose to use a standard set of 105 based gender informative markers for origin validation to achieve advancement in accurate medicine for all.

"An important aspect of accurate medicine is the ability to use the genetic background of individuals to assess disease risk, stratification, prognosis and outcome," said Kittles. "Here we show that what many investigators considered to be classical specimens from racially-defined individuals was not the case."

The City of Hope, and the Genomic Translational Research Institute (TGen), formed an alliance that brought patients quickly with precise drugs two years ago. City of Hope provides a state-of-the-art clinical environment to improve genomic breakthroughs created by TGen, the leader in the application of genomic analysis and bioinformatics to the development of cancer drugs.

To make accurate treatment accurate for people of all nationalities, different biological samples are required, Kittles said. And these biological samples should undergo careful characterization to ensure that their genetic origin is accurately reflected, he added.


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