We’re embarking on a new partnership with four historically Black medical colleges to increase representation in genomics research and expand the population that can benefit from precision health.

As part of our Accelerate Precision Health program, Charles Drew University College of Medicine, Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine have each received $11.5 million to advance their existing efforts for cutting-edge scientific research.

With their long-standing commitment to the education, research and healthcare of Black Americans, each school is uniquely equipped and experienced to guide medical research that will directly impact Black communities and generate new scientific knowledge to advance precision health for all communities.

Read more: How the HBCU Executive Leadership Institute Is Preparing Future Black Leaders

What is genomics?

Genomics is the study of the structure and function of an organism’s complete set of DNA — also referred to as an organism’s genome. This field of research stemmed from the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 — an international effort that generated the first sequence of the human genome. Genomics data is now used by scientists and researchers worldwide for various biomedical studies, helping us better understand the genetic basis for health and disease.

What is precision health?

Genomics is also the basis of precision health — an approach to clinical care that accounts for differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyles. It formulates treatment and prevention strategies based on patients’ backgrounds and conditions. In contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach, precision health is used to better prevent and diagnose disease and more accurately predict what type of care for a particular disease will work in which populations of people.

Increasing Diversity in Genomics

A pie graph showing that past genomics research lacks ancestral representation. The majority of the pie graph represents 78% of genomics data being from those of European ancestry and the smallest part of the pie graph represents other and Oceanian at .02% and Indigenous at .03%.
Individuals of European ancestry account for nearly 80 percent of genomics data, and studies based on a narrow slice of ancestral background are often not generalizable to all people.

While genomics is vital to biomedical science, there is a dire need for more diversity in genomics studies — people of European ancestry account for nearly 80% of genomics data. As a result, many populations, including people of African, Asian, Indigenous, Latin, Middle Eastern, and Oceanian descent, are vastly underrepresented — a barrier to improving our knowledge of genomics information for everyone.

Accelerate Precision Health is designed to help address this systemic barrier. The program will support each school in expanding genomics research opportunities for students, establishing a new Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program, increasing recruitment of anchor faculty in genomics, and funding state-of-the-art tools for data handling, storage and analysis.

Watch the videos below for more about our Accelerate Precision Health partners and the work they are embarking on to advance science.

Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee

Meharry Medical College, founded in 1876, is the nation’s largest private, independent, historically Black academic health sciences center. With this new partnership, Meharry will recruit and provide startup funds for two anchor scientists and two early career investigators for clinical and translational research in genomics and disease. Each recruited faculty member will be able to further build capacity by recruiting two additional junior faculty members to advance their research.

When you do research, you have the possibility of changing the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of people with the work that you do.

Meharry Medical College President Dr. James Hildreth

Howard University College of Medicine, Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private research university that produces more on-campus Black doctorate recipients than any other university in the U.S. Howard University College of Medicine will leverage its partnership to expand its genomics and genetics research capacity through a faculty recruitment and development program. Additionally, the university will expand the capacity of its Summer Faculty Research Fellowship, which provides salary and laboratory support for tenure-track assistant and associate professors.

HBCU medical schools play a critical role as leaders in advanced medical research, resulting in significant improvements in health outcomes for African Americans and other people of color.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick

Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia

Founded in 1975, Morehouse School of Medicine is one of the nation’s leading educators of primary care physicians, biomedical scientists and public health professionals. With this new collaboration, Morehouse School of Medicine will expand its educational programs and genomics research. Also, Morehouse School of Medicine will train more graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, hire additional research scientists, and establish an endowed faculty position.

For many years, communities of color have been left out of opportunities to contribute to databases in genomic science. The Accelerate Precision Health program will democratize opportunities for these communities to contribute.

Morehouse School of Medicine President and CEO Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice

Charles Drew University College of Medicine, Los Angeles, California

Charles Drew University College of Medicine is a private, nonprofit university in South Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1966 in response to the Watts Uprising, Charles Drew University College of Medicine cultivates diverse health professions leaders dedicated to social justice and health equity. The university will use the Accelerate Precision Health partnership to recruit faculty and train students for a genetic counseling master’s program. The school will also create a biomedical science enrichment program to develop the laboratory and research skills of undergraduate and graduate students.

Black and Latinx communities face the biggest health disparities. By engaging these communities in genomic research, we can close the gap in health outcomes.

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science President and CEO Dr. David M. Carlisle

The Accelerate Precision Health Program is part of CZI’s commitment to supporting organizations advancing racial equity, diversity and inclusion. Learn more about this organization-wide effort to apply a racial equity lens to our work.

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