Wide audience for BRC film on need for diversity in research

Our BRC’s latest film has been published on the educational platform TED-Ed.

It means an anticipated hundreds of thousands of people will see the film, which explores and explains the need for ethnic diversity in medical science.

Within two hours of being posted on the platform, over 10,000 people had viewed the video ‘What Medical Science Is Missing’, which was made in partnership with science presenter and producer Greg Foot and science communicator and animator Kirk Zamieroski. The BRC’s two other films hosted by Ted-Ed achieved over 1.3m viewings.

This latest  film’s scientific advisers were Dr Garrett Hellenthal (UCL Division of Biosciences), Suzana Hadjur (UCL Cancer Institute) and Prof Karoline Kuchenbaecker (UCL Division of Psychiatry).

We all share 99.9% of our DNA with each other – meaning we are 99.9% identical. But that 0.1% difference is incredibly powerful, and in that tiny difference between our genetic stories there is potential to develop better treatments for diseases that work for everyone.

Scientists analyse our genetic code – DNA – which can shed light on the causes of disease and how these diseases could be treated.

But at present, the genetic stories that researchers are combing through are biased towards people of European descent.

Medical science needs to look at the genetic stories of everyone. For example, we know that we may not have discovered the cause of sickle cell disease if scientists had only studied the genetic code of people of European descent.

And beyond looking at the genetic code, researchers need to include people from all backgrounds in clinical trials to see what impact a treatment has.

This is because different people may need different types of treatment. For example, in the case of warfarin, a treatment used to prevent blood clots, we know that to produce the same effect, most people of East Asian descent need a lower dose than some people of European descent, who need a lower dose than some people of African descent.

This kind of important information can be missed if research doesn’t include people from across a range of ethnicities.

Researchers are beginning to do this. At UCL and UCLH, researchers looking at genetic markers for cancer will be analysing tissue samples from people from a wide range of ethnicities, so that the biomarkers for cancer they identify will be relevant to as many people as possible.

Dr Hellenthal said: “We need to take account of the genetic stories of all groups as we work to understand and treat diseases. We also need to ensure that participants in clinical trials come from as many diverse backgrounds as possible. Involving people of all backgrounds at all stages of health research will help ensure everyone gets the best possible care and treatment they can.”

Watch the film.