AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: sydbiosis

Health Inequality: 10 studies exposing the truth in racial disparities within the health care system

“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal”- Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)

This statement written almost 300 years ago is what the United States of America bases most of its legitimacy on. Note the words “all” and “equal” within this statement. However, despite being one of America’s most precious documents, does it speak the truth? Are all men and women living in America created equal? We live in a time where institutional racism has become one of the most driving issues. Within the healthcare and education systems, among other things, racial disparities mostly among the Black communities has persisted. In this article, Michigan Medicine researchers explored ten different studies in which racial disparities between Black and White Americans were present. In studying these cases, one can view institutional racism in a different and very serious light that might bring more attention to the ongoing issues within 21st century America.

1. Covid-19 

Though Black Americans are at higher risk for Covid-19 due to increase risk of hypertension, diabetes and obesity, Melissa Creary of U-M School of Public Health believes that “it’s not the fact that they have these diseases that’s causing the higher death rate because people of all races, classes and creed have these diseases.” She later states that there is a great burden of disease present in the Black population. She also believes that this is because of “structural inequity” not for other reasons like increase in chances of developing other medical diseases.

2. Prostate Cancer Mortality Higher in Black Men

This study found that societal factors and the accessibility to quality care contributes to “a 2.5 times higher prostate cancer mortality rates for Black men compared to non-Hispanic White men.” It was found that Black men get fewer PSA screenings and are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage cancer. They will also be less likely to have health insurance, low accessibility to high-quality care and other issues linked to socioeconomics. After looking more into the study through this article, it was found that Black men did not have an increased risk of dying from prostate cancer compared to White men with a similar stage of disease. The greatest disparity to Black men with prostate cancer is low accessibility to healthcare and any type of care when it comes to health issues.

3. Minority Patients benefit from Minority Doctors (match is hard to make)

Ryan Huetro who works as a family medicine physician at Michigan Medicine found that Black and Indigenous people can improve their health care by seeing doctors of their race or ethnicity. A physician may not even realize the bias they might be treating a patient with but these biases still remain. Though matching people based on races may be beneficial to one’s healthcare, it is sometimes hard to match races in one’s own community. Therefore, this is not the best solution in fixing racial disparities within the healthcare system.

4. Maternal-Infant Health impacted by racial and ethnic disparities

In this study, it was found that nearly half of all “Black, Hispanic and Indigenous women had discontinuous insurance coverage between pre-conception and after delivering their babies compared to approximately a fourth of White women.” Lindsay Admon of Michigan Medicine found that racial and ethnic disparities were prevalent within the access to preconception, prenatal and postpartum care.

5. Young African Americans with Colon Cancer

In this study it was found that there were racial disparities in treatments for young colon cancer patients. Elena Stoffel of the Cancer Genetics Clinic at the U-M Cancer Center found that these tumors found in young people and African Americans need to be looked at and compared to see if they have “molecular differences compared to the typical colorectal cancer seen in older adults.” We can look more into this topic by looking at the way cancer occurs within our cells. Cancer is caused by the changes in the DNA in our cells. We can also look our genes. Oncogenes help cells grow, divide and stay alive. Tumor suppressor genes help cell division and cause cells to die at certain times. Colon cancer can be caused by DNA mutations that switch on and off oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. This causes the cells to grow at rapid paces. By learning more about our genes and cell division, we can learn more about the molecular differences when diving into colorectal cancer.

6. Dying costs for People of Color

The U-M team found that the last six months of life is $7,100 more expensive to the Medicare system for Black people and $6,100 more expensive for Hispanics compared to White people. This is one of the many racial disparities that are present within our corrupt healthcare system.

7. Blood Pressure Associated with Racial Differences 

Michigan Medicine researchers have targeted blood pressure in order to reduce racial disparities in dementia development. They found that long term hypertension is a possible explanation for why Black people are more likely to develop dementia than White people.

8. Low coverage in Vision Devices

This study focused on the fact that Medicare does not cover low vision devices. So when looking at White adults age 65 and older, the odds of using a low vision device were 17% lower in Black adults. Joshua Ehrlich found that low vision services improve the quality of life and equitable access to these services is a major challenge.

9. ACA makes Health Insurance Access more equal, but gaps still remain

The Affordable Care Act is a reform law enacted in March 2010 and can also be known as “Obamacare.” It had three main goals which was to make health insurance more affordable and more available, expand Medicaid, and support innovative medical care delivery methods to lower costs of health care. However, though it has achieved aspects of those goals, Black and Hispanic Americans are still less likely than White Americans to have health coverage and will ultimately avoid care because of high costs.

10. Lack of Stable Food Supply that can Impact the Health Conditions

Prior to Covid-19, many adults still struggle with food insecurity and after Covid-19, things have gotten exponentially  worse. Access to nutritious foods while also maintaining good health has been a struggle more than ever. Especially during these daring times, it is crucial to ensure that certain individuals are getting food that align with their pre-existing health conditions so those conditions don’t further themselves.


Ultimately, we as Americans need to do better in working to achieve equality for all but specifically health equality for all. Everyone deserves to have the same treatment and the same fighting chance to survive the deadly diseases. Health equality is one of the most basic but challenging things that America needs to figure out fast so that more lives are not put at risk. We can do better. Any comments on this topic would be much appreciated. Thank you!

PCR? Rapid? Antibody? Are these tests really accurate? Here is your guide to Covid-19 testing

As we are entering what seems to be a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, how should we approach getting tested and should we be relying on our results? 

According to the article written by John Ingold of the Colorado Sun, there are many tests that are used to test traces of SARS-CoV-2 but knowing when and what you are taking is crucial to stop the spread.  Covid-19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome that has quickly caused a global pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 is a single stranded RNA-enveloped virus that contains spike proteins that allow viruses to penetrate host cells and cause infection. These spike proteins are divided up into two subunits, the S1 subunit and the S2 subunit. Once the S1 subunit binds to host cell receptors, two changes must occur for the S2 subunit to complete the fusion of the virus to the cell membrane. To test for coronavirus, the FDA has approved 170 different diagnostic tests and 47 blood tests for the virus. These tests are now being given out nationwide so they are more accessible to everyone but studies have questioned the accuracy of these tests. However, due to the numerous amounts of tests, it is crucial to know the differences and to learn which tests are right for your specific situations.

Blood Tests vs Diagnostic Tests

Blood tests, which are also called serological tests, test the blood for antibodies. Antibodies are indicators that your body has produced a immune response to the virus. The immune system protects the body against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. In this case, the innate immunity is used to fight off Covid-19. Innate immunity is a defense that is active immediately upon infection. It is the first and second lines of defense and is a very rapid response. B cells within your body react to invading pathogens which causes the antibody to control the infection. These blood tests are usually used to test whether you have been previously infected by the virus but will occasionally detect whether you have the virus at that moment.

Diagnostic tests use other types of bodily fluids such as nasal mucus or saliva to test for an active infection. As you may have seen, they use long Q-tip swabs to swab the inside of your nose or mouth which they then send to a lab.

Sensitivity vs Specificity

When telling whether or not a test is accurate you must keep in mind the sensitivity and the specificity of the test.

Sensitivity tells whether or not the test is able to accurately detect the presence of an active virus. The less amount of sensitivity, the higher chance of receiving a false negative.

Specificity tells whether or not the test is able to accurately rule out the presence of an active virus. The less amount of specificity, the higher chance of receiving a false positive.

A guide to testing: 

Antibody Tests: As stated previously, antibody tests tend to be more sensitive than they are specific. The FDA found that most antibody tests have sensitivity values near 100% but specificity values near mid-90’s. This leads to an increase in false positives. The FDA also found that in some antibody tests, the positive predicting values are under 60% which means that it is very possible that there is a 50% percent chance that you actually have them and a 50% chance you don’t. Ultimately, these tests are sometimes quite unreliable.

PCR Tests: The PCR test, polymerase chain reaction, is a test that searches for the virus’ genetic material. The PCR test increases the genetic material so that it reaches detectable levels. These tests are administered by Q-tip swaps and take a few days to process them. The PCR is considered the most accurate test available and many say that if you have symptoms or have been exposed, this is the test for you.

Rapid Tests: Rapid tests have become increasingly common as they are faster and more consumer-friendly. However, scientists warn people that they are best used to determine if your cold is actually a cold or if it is Covid-19. If you are asymptomatic, they suggest a PCR test. Emily Travanty, interim director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s state and public health lab, warns that the rapid test is significantly less sensitive which in case may lead to false negatives.

Antigen Tests: Antigen tests for the virus by looking for which specific proteins are on the surface of the virus. These tests are highly specific so are unlikely to deliver false positives and more likely to give false negatives. If you are being tested repeatedly, antigen tests are the best for you. However, if you are only getting tested occasionally, you should get a PCR test in order to confirm your results.

By knowing which type of test you should get in your specific situation, you are helping the cause of stopping the spread. As we enter what many people are starting the call the “second wave” it is crucial to get tested constantly in order to protect those we love. (Note that if you have been exposed it is recommended to isolate for a week at home before getting tested as the the virus needs time to accumulate. Testing too rapidly will increase your chance of getting a false negative.)

Eating Shark Meat Increases Your Chance At Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

What toxins lie beneath the grey leathery skin of a shark? 

According to the article written at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science,  scientists found toxins that are commonly linked to neurodegenerative diseases in the fins and muscles of many different types of sharks. Scientists collected samples of ten different sharks that are commonly found in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The samples came back and tested positive for two toxins: mercury and beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine(BMAA). Many studies have linked mercury and BMAA to diseases like Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS). Shark meat delicacies are common in many Asian countries with dishes including shark fin soup.

Effects of Mercury on humans

Mercury has numerous health effects on humans and can be detrimental to one’s neurological system. Not only that, mercury also affects digestive and immune systems and can damage lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Mercury poisoning can also cause slow reflexes, damaged motor skills and intelligence disorders. In many instances, mercury poisoning can increase your chance at developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that the toxin mercury tends to accumulate in the shark’s tissue throughout their lives.

Effects of beta-N-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) on humans 

The neurotoxin beta-N-Methylamino-L-alanine is an amino acid produced by certain organisms that have been linked to ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. BMAA was also linked to being a cause of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers found BMAA in shark fins and cartilage both of which are used in food and medicine, respectively. The image shown below is of alanine, one of the amino acids. There is an NCC structure shown in the middle, a carboxyl group on the left hand side, an amine group on the right hand side and the CH3 represents the R group. Since BMAA is a non-protein amino acid, when inserted with other amino acids it releases toxic chemicals. The picture below represents an alanine amino acid, however, BMAA has a slightly different structure. The R group of BMAA is NH along with H3C and the amine group is NH2 which contributes to its toxicity.

Why you shouldn’t eat shark meat? 

If the reasons above have not convinced you not to eat shark meat, many species of sharks are facing extinction due to the high demand for shark parts. Though each of these toxins have their own set of dangers, mercury and BMAA together can have an entirely different and more dangerous effect on humans that researchers have not yet explored. To be safe one should refrain from consuming shark products if not for your own health but to save the sharks.

Don’t be afraid of sharks we need them! 

Sharks play a very important role in the ecosystem. Sharks are the apex predators in marine life are most likely at the top of the food chain. Ultimately, they keep the rest of the ocean healthy and in order. Without them many dangerous organisms would be present and could harm marine life. Sharks keep balance within the ecosystem and ensures diversity among ocean species. If you suffer from viruses like cystic fibrosis, researchers are close to finding anticoagulants within shark tissue that could possibly cure certain diseases. Sharks are also very important in the carbon cycle. When they die naturally, their bodies are full of carbon which is then consumed by scavengers and carbon is recycled into the ecosystem. Sharks do way more for us than we think!

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