BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 1 of 56)

Rosalind Franklin “Dark Lady of DNA”

A force to be reckoned with, Rosalind Franklin is described as brilliant and stubborn but also referred to as the “Dark Lady of DNA”. Franklin’s foundation began in Cambridge University where she studied both chemistry and physics. Following that Franklin began working at the British Coal Utilization Research Association where her work became centralized around the prosperity of coal which became her Ph.D. thesis. In 1946, Franklin was finally able to move to Paris to perfect a practice known as x-ray crystallography which later became her life’s work. Franklin started work with a man known as Maurice Wilkins on finding the structure of DNA.

Unfortunately, their clashing personalities took a toll on their professional relationship. This conflict led to the two of them working in relative isolation. While working in isolation suited Franklin, Wilkins went searching for new partners and ended up working at a laboratory in Cambridge with his friend Francis Crick who was working with James Watson on building the model of DNA. Unbeknownst to Franklin, Watson and Crick viewed her unpublished work including “photo 51” shown to Watson by Wilkins. This x-ray diffraction picture of a DNA molecule served as Watson’s inspiration.

Combining Franklin’s photograph with their own data is what allowed Watson and Crick to make their famous model of DNA. Franklin was left with no credit, and it was not until her death that Crick confessed that her work had been critical to the discovery. On a more positive note, Franklin spent her last years in her science prime. She moved to Birkbeck College where she started working on the tobacco mosaic virus. During these years she completed some of the best, most important work of her life and ended up traveling the world to discuss her work and the structure of viruses. Heartbreakingly, just as she reached the peak in her career, she died of ovarian cancer at age 37, accomplishing more in her short life than many renowned male scientists.

Franklin was left to face countless challenges and discouragements in her lifetime . When working at a lab at King’s College in London, Franklin was expected to work with antiquated equipment in the basement of the building. Being the boss she is, Franklin took charge of her lab with her customary efficiency and directed a graduate student in marked the refinements that the x-ray equipment needed. As if this was not trouble enough, Franklin was expected to stop her work every day and leave the building to get lunch. Because she was a girl, Franklin could not eat in the College cafeteria.

With all of these odds working against her, Franklin was able to make progress in studying DNA. However, her real obstacle was Maurice Wilkins. Wilkins was outraged and learned that his female “assistant” whom he expected to be working for him was actually a formidable scientist. This tension causes the two scientist to work independently. When Franklin died in 1898 of ovarian cancer, likely caused by her constant exposure to radiation, she was no longer eligible for the Nobel peace prize.

The Nobel prize can only be shared amongst three living scientists and when it was won by Watson, Crick and Wilson in 1962, Franklins work was barely mentioned. When “The Double Helix” was written in 1968, Franklin was made out to be a villain and Watson describes her as a “belligerent, emotional woman unable to interpret her own data.”

Franklin’s research and presence has only been acknowledged in the past decade. Now, there “are many new facilities, scholarships and research grants especially those for women, being named in her honor.” Franklin was a role model. Her father wanted to be a scientist but World War One cut short his education. Franklin always wanted to be a scientist. She faced it all. Her own father discouraged her because he thought it was unfit that a girl should be in such a field. 

Franklin took one of the first steps so that so many women could pursue their dreams in science. I have always wanted to be a scientist and have even faced challenges myself because I am a female. Rosalind Franklin is a role model for me and if I can turn out to be a fraction of the scientist she was, I will be happy. 

 

Inequality in the Sciences: Can we stop it?

Throughout this past year, racial tension has been high due to events around the country. While our country has been in a place that it has never been before, it helps reveal some of the biggest character traits of our country. Struggle does not build character, struggle reveals it. During the racial turmoil going on in our country, the different STEM fields began to really take notice of the racial disparity and inequality in their fields. Racial minorities in STEM fields, especially medicine can see and understand how the field is one of the most racist institutions in our country.

 

People of Color in STEM 

The lack of racial diversity in STEM fields is a huge issue for not only the people who are working in the field but also for the people they are researching for. It is difficult for the people working in the field due to discrimination, which makes it much more difficult to attract other people of color to the field. As a result, people of color are extremely underrepresented in these fields. To put it into perspective, 62% of blacks in STEM have experienced discrimination due to their race compared to 13% of whites in the field. 

 

How COVID-19 is affecting non-white Americans

During this COVID-19 pandemic, non-white Americans are between 2 and 2.6 times more likely to die from the virus than white Americans. That study was done and based on nothing but race. The virus does not look at your race before deciding to kill you or let you live. The virus has no preference. This study shows that the disparity in medical attention between non-white and white Americans is grave and it is killing people and no one seemed to be talking about it until recently.

 

 

What is the solution?

The two most simple answers to this question are education and equal opportunity. If we can educate young children who are going to grow up to be the next generation of people in health care and people in medicine about racial equality and racial injustice then the problem will cease to exist. In the meantime, if people of color and other minorities had the same opportunities to study medicine and help people that look like them would definitely slow this problem down tremendously as well.

KARSH STEM Scholars program

The KARSH STEM Scholars program is a great example of education and equal opportunity. This is a program at Howard University that gives aspiring African American STEM scholars an opportunity to pursue their passion no matter what economical background they have or what race they are? The program’s goal is to produce leaders in all of the STEM fields and has been very successful thus far. Programs like this make a tremendous push to close this gap that we are seeing throughout the different STEM fields.

 

 

 

 

Healthcare Inequality Within the United States

The healthcare field, that is painted to be a blessing for many Americans, happens to also be a huge source of fear for many Americans as well. Throughout history, our healthcare system has shown to ignore and strike fear into specific groups of people. For this reason, through years of trauma and story telling, the fear of these same healthcare systems tend to be passed down as generations pass by. Many Americans then grow up with the constant fear of the healthcare system and seeking assistance when something alarming may appear.

According to CenterJD:

  • The Harvard Medical Practice Study found, “there were significant differences between hospitals that serve a predominantly minority population and other hospitals. That is, Blacks were more likely to be hospitalized at institutions with more AEs [adverse events] and higher rates of negligence.”
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found, “Blacks received poorer quality of care than Whites in 43 percent of the core measures” and “disparities in quality and access to care are growing wider in the Hispanic population.”
  • Racial and ethnic minorities are uninsured more often than non-Hispanic Whites, a status that frequently results in less than adequate care.
    • A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that compared with the insured, those without health coverage who are hospitalized are more likely to receive fewer services, experience second-rate care, and die in the hospital.

Although this CenterJD post is from 2008, it puts into perspective how medical malpractice is not only a problem of the past during chaotic events such as WWI and WWII and how medical malpractice still very much affects our society today.

As Covid-19 is the modern issue at hand for most people in the United States, we often take into question who and how quickly is Covid-19 affecting people. Pasted below are statistics around Covid-19 in relation to race and ethnicity in America.

Evidently from the statistics given by the CDC, American Indian/Alaska Natives, Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latino persons are way more likely to die and be hospitalized by Covid-19 than their White counterparts. This may be due to a multitude of reasons stated by the CDC. They claim that “Race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation, e.g., frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers.”

One very prominent example of this inequality in the healthcare field is Black women in America’s healthcare system. According to Black Women’s Health Imperative, “Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and 3-4 times more likely to suffer from severe disability resulting from childbirth compared to White women.”  Black women are also much more likely to experience birth injuries and deaths due to other factors that are engraved in our societal structure. According to AJMC, When analyzing preterm birth numbers, it is evident that women living in areas of high violent crime and high air pollution that have the highest risk of preterm birth. “Black women are 4 times more likely to live in a neighborhood with high violent crime and high air pollution than White women,” which may partially explain why there is such a difference in the birth characteristics of these two groups.  Heather Burris, a current medical doctor, stated that “both physical and psychological stressors can lead to low birth weight and other health disparities” as well. This is why we must view these issues with historical context in mind. Discrimination and Racism, such as redlining, food deserts and many other forms of control by the American systems were used and ultimately affect the way that many Black Americans and other American groups function to this day.

According to Endofound, Health conditions that disproportionately affect Black women receive less government research funding than other similar diseases. They state that “estimates reveal that nearly a quarter of Black women between the ages of 18 and 30 have [uterine] fibroids — compared with 7 percent of White women. By age 35, that number increases to 60 percent. However, NIH annual funding for the condition is $17 million — compared to $86 million for cystic fibrosis, which impacts far fewer people each year (though the great majority of those impacted are Caucasian).” Cystic Fibrosis is a much rarer disease according to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as there are around 70,000 currently living people worldwide with this condition. There are more than 200,000 cases of Uterine Fibrosis in the United States alone. Cystic Fibrosis appears to be much deadlier, however, the lack of funding in a department for an illness that is extremely common should be of concern. With more demand, more funding would seem like a plausible reaction, however, the current funding clearly shows otherwise.

 

As shown by the article’s data presented by Nature’s Alice B. Popejoy and Stephanie M. Fullerton, many racial and ethnic minority groups are still not present in genome wide association studies funded by the National Institute of Health. Popejoy and Fullerton state that “together, individuals of African and Latin American ancestry, Hispanic people (individuals descended from Spanish-speaking cultures in central or South America living in the United States) and native or indigenous peoples represent less than 4% of all samples analysed.” These numbers are ridiculous and makes it very hard for many people of color to feel as safe as their White counterparts, since there is significantly less statistical data that provides the same support and comfort in their own safety.

According to an article by Lauren Frayer, the NHS, which is the state funded company that funds health care for all in Britain, polls better than the queen, showing that British citizens are extremely fond of the system that is set in place to help all of its citizens. Richard Murray, a policy director for a health care think tank named the Kings Fund, says that it would be “electoral poison” for any political figure in the UK to advocate for privatizing the NHS. This feeling is mutual among many citizens of other countries with some form of universal health care as well. Many other countries such as Canada, Sweden, Spain and many more have very similar policies set in place to help aid citizens in getting better health care coverage. In a similar fashion the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the United States made health insurance much more attainable for some citizens but also made more complications for others citizens as well. According to healthline, “more than 16 million Americans obtained health insurance coverage within the first 5 years of the ACA. A more affordable health insurance would help many groups such as the large amounts of people who live in high crime areas and high levels of poverty such as big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and many other similar areas. Although our country is yet to promote policies that provide realistic health care policies for all, there is always room for change and progress as we try to become more united as a country.

Universal health care coverage can be achieved in a multitude of ways and this graphic by commonwealth fund displays methods of achieving the end goal of universal health care.

 

This is evidently a multi-faceted issue as the health care problems for many groups in America are not only caused by one specific source. Our country must start by fixing the issue of widespread poverty in our country because it directly correlates to so many problems within our country including health care inequality. We must use our resources to help build up and fortify the communities that are not properly funded nor given the opportunities as many of the wealthier communities in the United States due to this lack of funding and lack of emphasis to support these areas. Without proper steps towards building these communities and making health care a more realistic option, a large amount of the United States’ population will continue to suffer and struggle for years to follow.

Scientist Spotlight: Ernest E. Just

As Black History month comes to an end, it is extremely important that we continue to take moments to celebrate the accomplishments of the Black Community, as well as recognize and learn about Black STEM leaders who made impactful discoveries and innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In this blog post, I will be spotlighting Dr. Ernest Everett Just.

Dr. Ernest E. Just was a renowned zoologist (with a focus in cytology) who received worldwide recognition for his work and discoveries in his respective field. Born in 1883, in Charleston, South Carolina, he lost his father at the age of four. Supported by his mother, Ernest was able to leave his home and pursue superior education in the north at the age of 17. Ernest earned a scholarship to the Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, where he would be the only Black student. He would then go on to attend Dartmouth and be the only student to graduate magna cum laude. Ernest majored in biology and minored in history. 

After graduating, Ernest went to teach at Howard University at the university’s Zoology department. In 1909, he began research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he would focus on studying marine eggs. Ernest soon realized that earning a Ph.D. would be a key to future success as a researcher, thus he began a self-study program at the University of Chicago. Again, Ernest would graduate magna cum laude. 

After the University of Chicago, Ernest was able to publish two very influential books about his research: Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Mammals and Biology of the Cell SurfaceThese books “reflected Just’s holistic view of eggs and embryos: that is, eggs are to be taken seriously in their own right rather than seen simply as tools to manipulate in order to prove a theory.” For his research, Ernest conducted chemical-induced parthenogenesis on sea urchins and sand worms; while doing this, he also observed the creature’s normal fertilization with sperm cells. Parthenogenesis allows an egg to develop into an embryo without fertilization from a sperm cell. In our AP Biology class, we learned about meiosis which is necessary for the creation of gametes such as sperm and egg cells. These cells develop into sperm or ova. Then during fertilization, a sperm and ovum (egg cell) unite to form a new diploid organism.

From his research, Ernest was able to conclude that eggs contained a necessary mechanism for starting development. The egg’s cytoplasm was the key to the cell’s development, not just the nucleus. Ernest’s work and research were crucial. His research was both creative and logically rigorous. Essentially, while other researchers at the time focused on how genes were responsible for how different organs develop, Ernest demonstrated that one of the most important factors for development was just the egg’s environment. 

After reading a lot on Dr. Just, I am truly astonished. He was a gifted scholar and a talented researcher. Ernest was one of the first African Americans to get worldwide recognition for scientific discovery and is also considered one of the first Black marine biologists in American history. After reading about Ernest, I am inspired to learn more about other excellent Black scientists who have gone underappreciated.

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett…the brains behind it all

As the month of February is regarded as “Black History Month”, it allows us to reflect on and acknowledge those who put their lives on the line to better our safety and who don’t always get recognition. In regards to COVID-19, the deadly virus that struck the world last January, many have spent countless hours researching new therapeutics and vaccines that counter the symptoms of this deadly virus. We tend to gloss over the founders of research and key discoveries pertaining to COVID-19, and instead use these findings as signs of hope for ourselves for the future. As we sit cocooned in our homes and limit our exposure to the virus, first responders and researchers are working day and night to preserve our safety of this great nation. Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a 34 year old researcher and scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). Dr. Corbett is a highly prestigious African American women who was one of the leading scientists at the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccine development. She along with her colleagues paved the way into the development of the well-renowned Moderna vaccine.

Kizzmekia Corbett graduated from Maryland University and received a B.S. in Biological Sciences. She was a Meyerhoff Scholar, which is an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science. She was then enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014. Dr. Corbett then used her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness. When president Trump paid a visit to the NIH last March, the leads of the vaccine research center explained their life-saving mission. The focal point behind that mission was no other than Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Two weeks after the president’s visit, Corbett’s team began their first stage of clinical trials. Corbett expressed that “they took a lot of the knowledge they have gained in the last six years and applied it to a vaccine platform in collaboration with Moderna…..The vaccine rolled out 10 months later”.

Dr. Corbett explains the vaccines effectiveness at the molecular level, as “the vaccine teaches the body how to fend off a virus, because it teaches the body how to look for the virus by basically just showing the body the spike protein of the virus….the body then says ‘Oh, we’ve seen this protein before. Let’s go fight against it”. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 6.5 million Americans have received the first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to Dr. Corbett, and that number is expected to rise daily. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, credited Dr. Corbett by stating “The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is just a fact”.

As we continue to reflect on inspirational African American men and woman around the world risking their lives to ensure our safety, let us take time to dig deeper into where these research discoveries come from. Let us not shroud the remarkable findings that scientists all around the world work endlessness to uncover. “In a time where vaccine skepticism is high among African Americans, Corbett hopes Black people will put faith in the vaccine and faith in the scientists working behind the scenes to bring it to the American people” states CBS news. If you are one of the fortunate people that have received this vaccine, maybe take some time to reflect on the countless hours of research that scientists such as Dr. Corbett experienced, because with out them the world would be a much different place.

Lewis Latimer the man who isn’t given enough credit

Introduction-

Lewis Latimer, son of George Latimer a former runaway slave, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 1848 and passed away at 80 years old in Flushing Queens, New York on December 11th, 1928. Latimer was an inventor and engineer who worked with many great inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Latimer was not always an inventor though, he began his career in science following the Civil War. At age 15 Latimer lied about his age in order to enlist in the navy to fight on behalf of the Union. After an honorable discharge Latimer returned home to Boston where he worked a low ranking job at a patent office. While working there he taught himself how to draft and mechanical draw by watching other draftsmen in the office. His talent was quickly recognized and he was swiftly promoted from an office boy to a draftsmen, which eventually led him to his career in science.

The Carbon Filament Lightbulb-

In 1880 Hiram Maxim, Thomas Edisons most competitive rival, hired Latimer to be his assistant manager at the U.S Electric company. Edison had just came out with the first electric lightbulb, but Maxim and Latimer sought to make an even better one so they attacked the main flaw of Edisons lightbulb, the duration that it glowed. Edison’s lightbulb was a glass bulb encased around a carbon wire filament usually made of paper or bamboo, once the filament inside the airless bulb got hot enough it glowed, giving a lightbulb light. To reform this Latimer figured out a way to help the carbon stop breaking. To help protect the carbon filament Latimer encased it in a cardboard envelope. Not only did this cardboard envelope help elongate the longevity of the carbon filament, but it also made the cost of lightbulb production and price drop. Latimer’s reforms to the lightbulb is what ultimately allowed it to have enough lighting and a long enough duration to be placed in homes and put in streetlights. As urbanization continued in the U.S Latimer led a team through major cities, like New York City and and Montreal, to have his lightbulbs installed into government building, railroad stations, and more.

Latimer’s Other Inventions and Conclusion-

Although Latimer’s biggest contribution to science was his carbon filament lightbulb, he also had 7 patents including the design for Alexander Graham Bells’ telephone, an apparatus for cooling and disinfection (air conditioner), and a locking rack for coats, hats, and umbrellas. Latimer has also written off on 3 other inventions that he helped Hiram Maxim invented like the electric lamp and the process of manufacturing carbon. However despite all of his inventions and contributions Lewis Latimer is still a name with as much noteriety as those like Alexander Graham and Thomas Edison. It is extremely disappointing due to the fact that he not only had a mind beyond his years, but he was also a Black man born from two former slaves in the 1880s. I hope that my blog sheds some light on some of Latimer’s amazing work that he completed through his life. I hope you guys enjoyed reading, until next time with monoseanaride!

Alice Ball’s revolutionary leprosy treatment development

Throughout history, people have been taught about a select few scientists that are often white men. However, the science field has a variety of others revolutionary scientists that have made great strides in their field, yet are not well known. It is important to study women’s and people of other races or religion’s accomplishment equally in depth.

Ball’s New Treatment for Hansen’s Disease

Alice Augusta Ball was a chemist who developed a successful treatment for Hansen’s Disease (also known as leprosy). Leprosy is a bacterial infection that effects skin, nose linings, and upper respiratory that causes skin ulcers, nerve damage, numbness, weakness in the muscles, and skin lesions.

At the time, leprosy was being treated with Chaulmoogra oil, but was unable to be injected, and could only apply it on the skin.  At age 23, Ball tried to purify the oil into chemical compounds (called ethyl esters), so it can be injected and be effective by making it water soluble and able to dissolve in the bloodstream. But, to achieve this goal, the oil needed to be converted to fatty acids first. Ball then realized the acid needs to be frozen for a night so it has enough time for esters to separate, and stop it from degrading due to the temperature. Ball’s work impacted many people with leprosy, saved their lives and lifestyles.

Why Didn’t Ball Get Credit? 

Although the Ball Method was the most effective treatments for leprosy at the time, Ball was not given credit. This is because her colleague, Arthur Dean took her findings and put his name on it. Because of this, Ball did not get credit until 1922. The University did not recognize Ball’s work for 90 years, and finally honored her in 2000. Ball was also named one of the most influential women in Hawaiian history in 2016.

Alice Ball’s Background

Ball was born in 1892 in Seattle, Washington, and her family later moved to Hawaii. Ball attended University of Washington where she received a bachelors degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and later went to work and study at University of Hawaii and the college of Hawaii. She was the first woman to graduate from the college, and the first African American researcher in the chemistry department. Unfortunately, Alice Ball passed away in 1916 at the young age of 24 when she fell ill during her research.

What Do I Think?

I believe, like many others do as well, Alice Augusta Ball is an inspiration to many with her various accomplishments in her short life. Along with dying at just 24 years old, Ball had to face many adversities due to societal constructs and discrimination towards African Americans and woman. Still, though, Ball persevered against all odds and helped advance the world of science. Women like Ball should be celebrated, talked about, and taught to people for all of their contributions to society, not only a select few white men.

You don’t know Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett!? Read This!!

Overview

Who is Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett? Nature Medicine published an article on October 19th, 2020 titled “The duty to mentor, be visible and represent” which answers this question. Dr. Corbett is a research fellow for the Coronavirus vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). An additional article published by the American Society for Microbiology titled “Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D.” outlines her vast career achievements.

Personal Background

Kizzmekia Corbett is a Black woman who grew up in North Carolina, where she attended grade school. Dr. Corbett is a first generation college graduate who was unfamiliar with careers in science most of her young life, until she met a mentor who inspired her to dive into a scientific career. She was sixteen years old attending public school when she discovered her passion for science. As her parents encouraged her to do during her high school years, Dr. Corbett had a summer internship with American Chemical Society’s Project SEED program, where she researched at a lab of the University of North Carolina. As mentioned above, Corbett came out of this program with a mentor who changed the path of her life. PhD candidate Albert Russel, a Black man, ignited a passion and sense of possibility in Corbett to achieve her goals in STEM, regardless of her gender or race. She also learned the importance of mentorship in success and understanding in the field of science. Short after, she attended the University of Maryland where she graduated, in 2008, with Bachelor of science degree in Biological Studies, and a secondary major in Sociology. She also graduated as a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar. Later in 2014, she completed her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology. From this mentorship, she now feels a duty to inspire the youth of aspiring scientists. She is vigorously passionate about inclusivity in the field, and supporting those from underrepresented or underprivileged backgrounds. She is fulfilling her wish by mentoring students in the National Institutes of Health HiStep 2.0 program. She believes that exploring interest in science at a young age is extremely important.

“As I trek through my scientific career, making novel discoveries, climbing what seems to be a never-ending ladder, I am reminded of my other duties…to mentor…to be visible…to represent.” –Kizzmekia Corbet

Career Accomplishments/ Advancements in COVID-19

She is currently a research fellow for the Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center. As an immunologist, she and her team have been committed to developing coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Corbett’s team partnered with Moderna, Inc. to develop the mRNA-1273 vaccine. The FDA, Food and Drug Administration, approved the clinical trial of the mRNA-1273 vaccine. Dr. Corbett and her team have completed extensive research and have made several important findings regarding coronavirus vaccines and antibodies. The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine has since– January–  been approved by the FDA and distributed to the public!

Where to next? She is currently in Phase 1 of a clinical trial to develop a universal influenza vaccine. Another one of her goals is to become an independent principal investigator.

It is clear that Kizzmekia S. Corbett is a brilliant, accomplished individual who only has more goals to achieve within the science community! Let me know what you think of her story in the comment, and if this story sparks and additional interest in you!

How the Healthcare Industry Disadvantages Minorities

Although our country is built on the principle that “all men are created equal,” this notion has yet to be completely true in modern America or our history. The disproportionate death rate from COVID-19 in Black Americans is a telltale sign of the inequities, or injustices, in place in the healthcare industry. While it’s easy to blame these inequities on higher obesity, diabetes, or hypertension rates in Black Americans, there is more to it than that.

These inequities are also very prevalent in prostate cancer mortality, as the numbers are far higher in Black men than white. This results from a multitude of factors, including that they “generally get fewer PSA screenings, are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage cancer, are less likely to have health insurance, have less access to high-quality care,” or perhaps even other factors, according to Daniel Spratt, M.D. These are all indications of structural inequality, a system of unfairness created by institutions, in our country, not just circumstantial or individual biases. 

Black and minority patients are likely to feel more comfortable with minority doctors, but unfortunately this isn’t always possible. For obvious reasons, this reduces implicit bias from the physicians. Aside from a harder time getting proper care, minorities also suffer from an unequal amount of expenses. According to a UMichigan team, “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 with white people,” although more research must be done to determine exactly why this is. One of the root causes for these trends could be lack of nutrition. Even before the pandemic, many minority adults and children didn’t have access to nutritious foods, which plays a major role in health status. This also continues to be perpetuated by institutional racism and the vicious cycle of poverty in America. Unfortunately, many situations only worsened with the emergence of COVID-19. This is a very pressing issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later, in order to ensure the safety of many adults and children.

As we have learned in bio class, the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is absolutely essential. Especially in urban or tightly packed communities, where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person, masks are needed more than ever. Additionally, these communities often have high amounts of minorities, worsening their odds of becoming seriously ill. Fortunately, with the development of safe and effective vaccines, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Minority communities desperately need vaccines in order to prevent any more lives lost, and luckily distribution is gradually picking up. Although this has been a tragic year, I hope America will learn from this situation, becoming more prepared for future unpredictable scenarios and fixing the inequities prevalent in our country.

Is Racial Bias Ruining Science?

In this video posted by Wonder Collective on Youtube, Dr.Esteban Bruchard gives a general overview of how racial biases have been implemented into medicine and general science. Primarily, Dr.Esteban Bruchard shed light on the exclusion of minorities from clinical research. By doing this the scientific conclusions had to be generalized to other groups who haven’t been included in the research. Specifically, a graphic that was shown in the video, showed that a drastic 81% of the participants of a “Recent genome study” were European.  Other races making up only 19% of the participants. The underrepresentation of other races will cause an inability to properly assess certain situations regarding other races. An example of this, as touched upon in the video, was how a difference in gene frequency in Blacks caused many African-Americans to be misdiagnosed with an enlarged heart.

Black patient getting attended to by a doctor

This isn’t the only instance of racial biases affecting science and medicine. In an article by Mathieu Rees, the topic of racism in healthcare is further discussed. Rees, dives into how certain aspects such as pregnancy, emergency care, pain treatment, etc. One thing that Rees highlights in his summary is that these racial biases can lead to inaccurate diagnoses. Rees also uses some statistics to show the racial disparities in healthcare. A specific statistic that I found alarming was a study that was conducted with white medical students in 2016. In this study, “73% held at least one false belief about the biological differences between races”. Examples of some of their beliefs were “Black people having thicker skin, less sensitive nerve endings, or stronger immune systems.” Not only are these biases alarming because of the obvious racial assumptions, but it is also so problematic because the people with these preconceived notions are those who will potentially be leading the healthcare of the future.

Going forward there are many steps that need to be taken to prevent the prevalence of racial biases in healthcare and sciences. One big step that can be taken is the involvement of more POC in the science world. Not only in hospitals as leading figures like doctors and physicians, but also as participants in things like clinical trials, advanced studies, etc. Also, the acknowledgment of various “social factors that affect health outcomes“. Finally, addressing these biases head on is one of the best ways to avoid them from being prominent in the line of work and in the development of science.

Ernest Everett Who? The One Who Flew Under The Radar

Keeping up with this month’s theme of Black history and social justice, the topic of Black excellence is always a good one. It is very interesting to learn about how these people in under-represented social groups are able to achieve so much with such little resources. It is truly amazing, and also what’s weird is that we never hear about these people. Let’s look at one of these people and highlight their significance in this world – Ernest Everett Just, PhD.

 

Who was he?

Dr. Just was a pioneering biologist and scientific writer. He was born and raised in South Carolina on August 14, 1883. He was the son of an alcoholic father when he was just 4 years old his father had passed away due to alcoholism. From then on, he was raised by his single mother. 

 

How educated was he? 

Dr. Just’s mother, Mary, wanted him to just become a teacher and decided to send him to a high school in the south. But, Mary then believed that the schools in the south were inferior and then sent him to a preparatory school in the north. From then, he graduated from Dartmouth and developed an interest in Biology and specifically in fertilization and egg development because of a newspaper he read on this topic. After graduating from Dartmouth, he earned distinguished honors for topics such as history, biology, and botany. Safe to say he was one incredibly intelligent and educated individual.

 

What did he do next after college and into his career? 

As his mother wanted, his first job after graduating college was becoming a teacher at the famous Howard University. He then later received his PhD from the University of Chicago where he majored in embryology. As stated earlier, he was a pioneer. He found many new areas in the stages of development, including fertilization, experimental parthenogenesis, hydration, cell division, dehydration in living cells and ultraviolet carcinogenic radiation effects on cells. Also stated earlier, Dr. Just was an academic writer who edited for major magazines and won the NAACP’s first ever Spingarn medal which stands for outstanding achievement for an african american individual. Dr. Just also faced many racial challenges growing up and living in the United States of America. He was awarded a position in the Julius Rosenwald Fellow in Biology of the National Research Council which allowed him to work in Europe. Since his work was hindered so heavily in America, this position was very good for him. During his time in Europe, he published many research papers. He, to this day, is seen as “a biologist of unusual skill and the greatest of our original thinkers in the field.” 

 

What are some of his greatest discoveries?

Dr. Just is known for his discovery of the “wave of negativity” that sweeps of the sea urchin egg during fertilization, and his elucidation of what are known as the fast and slow blocks to polyspermy. He discovered that a “wave of negativity” sweeps over the egg during fertilization – it is a wave of ectoplasmic structural change that blocks additional sperm from binding to the egg and is associated with what is known as the fast block to polyspermy. He distinguished this fast wave from the slower wave of fertilization membrane separation. He noted that the rapid wave of negativity preceded the slower one defined by membrane separation. Complicated right? Well, at least he and other biologists understood it. Dr. Just was a very underrated scientist, nobody has ever heard of him! Hopefully this can give you insight to a man that persevered through rough times, socially through racism and mentally through the troubles with his early life.

Dr Jessie Price: Her Impact on the World of Vaccines

Dr Jessie Price, a black female veterinary microbiologist who changed the veterinary field for the better.

Dr. Price’s Path to Success: Academic Life

Born January 1, 1930, Dr. Jessie Price lived in Montrose Pennsylvania with her mother Teresa. Teresa Price was a huge motivator for her daughter’s success and pushed her daughter to flourish academically. As an adolescent, Dr. Jessie Price attended surrounding public schools, all were predominantly white. During this time, it was typical for graduates to jump into a career to support their families, however Teresa Price valued academics greatly and supported her daughter’s notable academic talent. Dr. Price attended the College of Agriculture at Cornell University, where her tuition was covered by her resident status, as she spent a year in Ithaca taking more classes at a nearby high school after graduation. Her goal to attend medical school was not met due to financial costs, however, she found her passion in microbiology. In 1953 she earned her bachelors degree in microbiology, then returned to receive her masters degree in veterinary bacteriology, pathology, and parasitology in 1956. in 1959, the same year she received her masters degree, she earned her Ph.D after completing her dissertation, “Studies on Pasteurella anatipestifer Infection in white Pekin Ducklings” published by the Journal of Avian Diseases. Dr. Price’s research career officially began in 1959 as she worked at the Cornell University Duck Research Laboratory.

Her Research

While working as a research specialist at the Cornell University Duck Research Laboratory, Dr. Jessie Price “focused on the identification and controlling bacterial diseases in commercial white Pekin ducklings” (Quintard Taylor). All of her hard work and focus lead to her discovery of how to recreate the disease in these ducks and create a vaccine against it.

Pasteurella Anatipestifer and the Vaccine

At this time around “10%-30% of the duckling population was lost in the first 8 weeks of their lives due to disease” (poc2.co.uk), this meant an extreme loss of money in the poultry farming business. Dr. Jessie Price found Pasteurella anatipestifer in the ill ducks she researched which caused the life threatening respiratory issues in the animals. Other symptoms include tremors and discolored diarrhea. Pasteurella anatipestifer is a septicaemic disease, meaning a pre-existing bacterial infection enters the blood stream and is highly transmittable. Dr. Jessie Price began the process of research by obtaining fluid from the duck’s cranium. This fluid was then kept in a glass container and stored in order to be used as a study subject.  “Duck broth” is then stored and examined for experimental culture. This research led to the discovery of the Riemerella Anatipestifer vaccince, one of the many vaccines that derived from this research, which works to prevent R. anatipestifer infection at early stages in the ducks life (when they are most susceptible to infection).

Duck Color Colorful Water - Free photo on Pixabay

Ultimately Dr. Price’s research saved the poultry industry and the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost due to poultry death. She passed away in 2015 and Cornell University includes more information on the disease in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Leading Science with Light

Emmett Chappelle was a African American Scientist and one who contributed greatly to Medicine, Philanthropy, and Astrochemistry. Chapelle was born on October 24, 1925 in Phoenix, Arizona where he grew up to attend Phoenix College. During his time at Phoenix college, he received an Associate’s Degree in electrical engineering and then a Bachelor’s of Science in biology at the University of California. Following, Emmett Chappelle taught biochemistry at Meharry Medical College. He received many offers for his graduate studies which he completed for his Master’s Degree at the University of Washington. Continuing his studies, Chappelle earned a Ph.D at Stanford University for 4 years before leaving for a research position at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies in Maryland. After years of hard work, he moved on to work at NASA before moving on to work at the Goddard Space Flight.

While at NASA, where Chappelle worked as a Exobiologist and Astrochemist, he made several discoveries. Perhaps the most important aspect of his work in the field of biology was his exploration of how light is given off by different organisms. Chappelle learned that certain chemicals give off light when mixed with living cells as long as adenosine triphosphate is present, and use this finding to detect bacteria in various samples, including bodily fluids, water, and other foods. Chappelle used this knowledge to develop a means to determine the health of plants. By measuring the amount of fluorescents emitted by plants in a forest, he was able to determine the amount of photosynthesis occurring within that forest. Chappelle’s study of the enzymes luciferin and luciferase, used by fireflies, to make their cells glow paved the path for many current scientists who still use these chemicals as florescent tags to see cancer cells.

Chappelle was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his discoveries related to bioluminescence and the important roles they have played in many fields of science. Aside from his recognition for his scientific discoveries that earned him 14 US patents, Chappelle was also respected for his service in the United States Army and for the time he spent mentoring minority high school and college students. Although he passed away in October of 2019, Chappelle will long be remembered for his many contributions to science.

 

 

 

 

How America is Failing Black Women During Pregnancy and Childbirth

In the United States, about 700 women die each year due to pregnancy related causes and about 65,000 women come close to death. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate compared to developed nations. Maternal mortality is when a person dies during pregnancy, at delivery or shortly after childbirth. While this is a shocking statistic, an even more surprising one is that in the United States, Black women are three to four times more likely to die because of a pregnancy-related issue than white women. This disproportionate ratio is one of the reasons that the United States Mortality rate is much higher than other developed countries. But, the death of many of these Black mothers are preventable. 

In the past, healthcare professionals and researchers have attributed this high rate of mortality due to pre existing conditions because Black women are more likely to be obese or hypertensive. More recently, in the scientific community there has been an agreement that the blame should not be placed on the women but instead on systemic racism. This is not only in healthcare but also because of other social inequities such as access to food, good schools, jobs, and safe drinking water, just to name a few. When understanding health inequities it is important to look at these social determinants of health, as well as access to prenatal care. While the blame is put on a number of complex issues, unconscious bias of healthcare providers play an important role. This is shown clearly through Serena Williams childbirth complications. Williams is at the top of her field, and a well respected woman. Despite being such an affluent figure, she was dismissed when she told nurses that her breath was shortening during childbirth. The nurses wasted crucial time even though they were informed of Williams’ medical history. Serena William’s story does not stand alone, well off Black women are more likely to die than white women due to pregnancy related issues. In general, one in four Black women report feeling disrespected by medical professionals. There are so many stories, such as, a new mother whose doctors didn’t believe her when she said she was having a heart attack until she had a second one, a mother whose obesity was blamed when she had trouble breathing when in the end it was her heart failing.

Recognizing the issue is only part of it, the next step is to implement policy and change to ensure that Black mothers do not die due to systemic racism and bias in the healthcare system. One way to potentially decrease the high rates in mortality is to recognize race as a factor during prenatal screenings, this way pre-existing conditions and health complications are less likely to be blamed. Hospitals should implement training on unconscious bias because if healthcare providers are not aware of the issue, they may not notice their own bias. There should also be a push for more standardized healthcare, an increased awareness around maternal health and ensuring that mothers make decisions about their own care. Realistically, there is not one answer to this issue as it goes beyond the healthcare system and instead is just one outcome of systemic racism in the United States. So, what do you think is the best solution to decrease the disproportion mortalities in maternal medicine?

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Vaccine Visionary

Despite the recently-approved Moderna Covid-19 vaccine’s place at the forefront of many STEM-related discussions, the fact that a Black woman played an integral role in its development is comparatively underpublicized. During a month intended to celebrate both historical and current Black trailblazers, it is of the utmost importance that the American public properly recognize Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who – through both her illustrious career and her contributions to the vaccine – remains a fine example of Black excellence in science.

Portrait of Corbett

Per BlackPast, Corbett was born on January 26, 1986, in Hurdle Mills, North Carolina. Even at an early age, Corbett was considered by her mother (Rhonda Brooks) as a “sweet little, opinionated detective” due to her intellectual curiosity. While attending Hillsborough High School, she interned for numerous research labs and enrolled in ProjectSEED, a program dedicated to providing supplemental STEM courses for exemplary math and science students. During her summers off from UMBC (which she attended on a Meyerhoff scholarship), Corbett worked under the National Institute of Health alongside Dr. Barney Graham in studying the way that the respiratory syncytial virus develops in children. According to Graham, her ambition and desire for success were apparent from the start; upon his asking of what she wanted to accomplish in her life, Corbett informed him that “[she wanted his] job.” Soon after she earned her PhD and became a postdoctoral fellow of the NIH, Corbett started working on the creation of a vaccine to combat SARS and MERS, two coronavirus diseases. She and her team were responsible for identifying the spike protein of both viruses; as a result, she was asked to lead a team of scientists enlisted by Moderna to finish developing an effective mRNA-based vaccine (NOTE: Per the CDC, “mRNA vaccines contain material [from the SARS-CoV-2 virus] that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. [Once] our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine.” After recognizing that the protein is an invader, the body will create T-memory cells and B-memory cells, which are responsible for preventing re-infection). Luckily for the general public, her and her team’s efforts proved to be successful, as the Moderna vaccine has an impressively high efficacy rate. 

Corbett’s road to success wasn’t always easy; due to her race and gender, she was often deprived of a voice to share her research during times when it was desperately needed. Corbett was the only woman and Black person who was invited to now-former President Trump’s conference with leading figures of the NIH (including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Graham) regarding progress on the vaccine; according to NBC, no one at the meeting asked her a single question, despite her position as the head of the aforementioned scientific team leading the vaccine’s development. This treatment is not an anomaly: despite Graham’s stressing of the fact that Corbett is the leading expert on the project, many scientists around the globe defer to, direct questions to, and even double check her work with him instead. Even more egregious is the fact that Corbett is the subject of racist and sexist cyber abuse, as shown by this tweet telling her to “go back to McDonalds where [she belongs].”

Nevertheless, Corbett has made it clear (via an interview with Black Enterprise) that she never intends to change who she is and what motivates her in order to fit the expectations of the (increasingly diverse, but still largely white) STEM community. “I am Christian,” she says. “I’m Black. I am Southern, I’m an empath. I’m feisty, sassy, and fashionable. That’s kind of how I describe myself. I would say that my role as a scientist is really about my passion and purpose for the world and for giving back to the world.” By giving back to the world in such a formative way through her research, Corbett has proven that the growing desire for diversity in science is not just an option, but a necessity.

Why are there inequities for people of color in the healthcare system, specifically in the COVID-19 pandemic, and what are the solutions?

Throughout the past few months, the push for social justice has grown significantly. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have heard about the inequities for people of color. I have taken in interest in this topic through my psychology class as well as my portfolio project. In my psychology class was where I started to really learn what inequities emerging majorities face in the healthcare system, and as someone who is white I think it is so important to learn what some people go through. Though I will never understand what it is like, I want to do my best to understand and create change for those people. I would like to enter the healthcare field, so I want to educate myself on these problems within the healthcare system and strive to create solutions. 

In my portfolio project, where I focused on effectiveness and accessibility to COVID-19 testing, I researched an article that dove into a divide for people of color trying to be tested. These people were not able to go to drive-thru testing centers because they didn’t have a car, and therefore could not be tested. This is one of the problems that minorities have faced throughout the pandemic. 

This article focuses on the problems of emerging majorities during the past few months. According to the article, in New York City, black people and latinos have a mortality rate from COVID-19 that is 1.6 to 2 times higher than white people. In Arizona, 16% of the deaths are Native Americans. Many people who work in the healthcare system, as well as officials and the general public, are working to solve this issue. The article addresses specific reasons why these inequities exist. 

People of certain races, ethnicities, social position, and economic status could be more exposed to the virus because of their jobs, size of their family, child care, public transportation, etc. Some jobs don’t allow people to work from home and their children might be in child care. Some also rely on public transportation or live with many people at home. People who have faced poverty or discrimination often have chronic pychosocial stress that can eventually lead to inflammation. This develops a maladaptation that can cause an impaired response in the immune system to COVID-19. Unfortunately, these people may not have access to a primary care provider. To learn more about psychosocial stress I found an article that explains this in minorities. Oftentimes, minorities face stress because of economic status and not as much access and delivery to healthcare. Stress is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and inflammation.

Black leaders in the healthcare profession have proposed immediate solutions such as recording data for races and ethnicities, access to current treatments, mobile testing, and communication with leaders that are trusted. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) has worked to address these problems identifying and preventing inequities. They have created resources for COVID-19 to people who speak languages such as Arabic, Nepali, and Spanish. I didn’t realize that there were also inequities for people based on the language they spoke, so this was surprising to learn. I found an article that talks about inequities for Spanish speakers in healthcare. The article discussed how latino children who have limited English proficiency (LEP), are more likely to have compromised healthcare and parents have less communication with the provider which makes more dissatisfaction with the healthcare system. Although there are many inequities for people of color right now, there are so many solutions and people working to fix these problems. This relates to our goal in biology to learn about inequities in the healthcare system, especially during Black History Month.

 

Race is a Social Construct. Science cannot be Misused to Justify Racism.

This blog post from Montclair HS in NJ, co-written by a teacher and a student is very insightful through its thorough exploration of the biology of melanin as well as some helpful links in its introduction of genetics and race. 

Melanin is a pigment found in our skin whose job is to protect us from harsh conditions such as sunlight (specifically the radiation from rays that can damage DNA and increase risk of skin cancer). Those with higher levels of melanin tend to have darker eyes and those with lower levels have lighter eyes. In addition, there are two types of melanin called eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin (in higher concentration) is responsible for darker shades in eyes, hair, and skin while pheomelanin (in higher concentration) is responsible for lighter shades.

The topic then shifts to the idea of skin color losing its biological importance. It contributes to the creation of race and its value. When science mixes with societal constructs, things can get complicated. Through science, we obtain knowledge backed by evidence. What happens if bias interferes? I’d question the accuracy of the information I consume. Science should not be utilized to push forward personal agendas nor should it be used to justify things like racism. The blog links an article covering misrepresentative genetic data and how it can be used to support one’s view. The article references a 2017 gathering of white nationalists chugging milk, because digesting lactose as an adult is a genetic trait more frequent in white people. However, this stems from a racially charged past. Other minorities were excluded from this evolution, yet this trait is commonly used to tell those of African descent to leave America. While certain findings appear to have one meaning, we must be careful to not fixate on how we want to use information to support our own opinions. Part of this responsibility belongs to scientists and how they present their data. Many doubt their ability to communicate to the public about controversial topics. All humans are 99.6-99.8% identical. That as a fact is the basis of why I believe there aren’t superior or inferior people.

 

This glass of milk may be cool, but white supremacy isn’t. The genetic trait to be able to digest lactose after childhood is far more common in white adults. However, this is not due to racial superiority in any way. There was a chance mutation that not everyone experienced because of discriminatory conditions during the time period.

The American Medical Association implemented two policies as of November 16, 2020. The policies acknowledge race as a social construct. Racial essentialism – when race is considered a biological construct – worsens health disparities for marginalized groups. Therefore the AMA desires medical education that can explain how racism is able to grow when race is presented as biology. It is their hope that race can one day no longer be a determinant of health.

This blog piqued my interest, because I often forget that identifiers such as race and gender are social constructs. These articles were a perfect combination of what some of my Diversity Committee work is but also what we have been learning in AP Bio about genetics. I think it is so important to address these areas of bias within our systems in this country. Racial inequality has been prevalent for far too long. We must use science for the greater good and not to support each personal opinion we have.

Does Your Race Affect Your Health?

Over the years, people of color have been fighting for equality in human rights. You see all over the news of people such as Black Americans fighting for justice over potential acts of racism in areas such as police brutality. As well as hearing these types of stories on the news, you hear Black Americans talk about their experience in job interviews, claiming that they were fully qualified, if not even more qualified than the other candidates, but were not selected for the position because of their race. Now, who would have ever thought that your race would have an impact on your health? According to a recent study from the University of Michigan health team, Black Americans are more likely to have worse health and are more likely to contract diseases than White Americans.

In this Michigan University study, it covers multiple factors as to how Black Americans experience health inequality. To start, Black Americans have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 because of their higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity, which can make COVID-19 more harmful to you if you have one of these things. Although the argument is made that anyone can have these types of diseases, however, there are a significantly more Black Americans who have diseases like this, giving them a higher risk of dying from COVID-19. As well as being able to get COVID-19 easier, Black men also have a higher mortality rate from prostate cancer. This is because Black men generally do not have health insurance, generally get fewer PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) screenings, have less access to high-quality care, which overall can be linked to having a low socioeconomic status. After doing some research on the different incomes of Black and White Americans, I found that the mean household income for a white person in America is a little over $30,000 more than a Black person living in America. After examining these numbers, health insurance would most likely be much more difficult to obtain in a Black American household compared to a White American household. If the United States is able to find a way to provide affordable and equal health insurance for all races, it would likely benefit the majority of the population of the United States.

 

Bias in Science: History, Representation, and Medicine

Science is not objective. Scientists may value fact, but they are still people too, influenced by identity and implicit and explicit biases in their research. Racism has pervaded every aspect of society since the country’s founding, and scientific institutions are no exception. From historical racist research practices to a modern reluctance to support Black Lives Matter or actively diversify the field, scientists have participated in and promoted racism for centuries. Scientists cannot claim objectivity now as an excuse to not be antiracist.

Throughout American history, unethical, racist research has contributed to scientific “progress”, but that is not regularly acknowledged. Although the past cannot be undone, fields should at least recognize the horrific means by which some research was done. For example, gynecology was borne of unethical experiments done on enslaved women and children. The “Tuskegee Experiment” withheld treatment of syphilis from hundreds of Black men just to see how the disease progressed. Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman with cervical cancer in 1951, had some cells taken from her tumor without being informed of this. The cells from her tumor, now known as HeLa cells, have been used since the 1950s for biomedical research. Since cancer is characterized by an improperly regulated cell cycle, with either too much cell growth or too little cell death, cancer cells can grow and divide excessively. This particular line of cells has been able to grow and divide endlessly, due to the presence of an active version of telomerase during cell division. This enzyme prevents the typical shortening of telomeres in cell division that leads to cell aging and death, making the cells “immortal” and the cell line usable to this day. Though they have been used in various research advances, her name was only connected to them in the 1970s. Her family, still with limited access to healthcare themselves, received no financial benefits and had no say in how the cells were used. Henrietta Lacks’ case is a more recent example of unethical research practices affecting Black people.

The questions scientists choose to study, whom they choose to include, and how they apply their results all bias research. Scientists of marginalized identities are much more likely to explore topics relevant to minority groups. So then, the lack of diversity among scientists also contributes to biased research priorities. In 2016, only 9% and 13.5% of science bachelors degrees were given to African Americans and Latinos respectively, and only 5% and 3.8% of doctoral degrees in science and engineering went to women and men from underrepresented minorities. Almost 70% of scientists and engineers employed full time are white. When issues like COVID-19 and climate change disproportionately affect marginalized groups, the lack of diverse representation can prevent representative research or solutions. Scientific institutions need to work on hiring and retention of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous scientists, in part by creating less hostile work environments and increasing DEI efforts.

The lack of diversity in clinical trials also decreases the inclusivity of science and medicine. Even though about 40% of Americans are nonwhite or Hispanic, the clinical trials for new drugs tend to have much whiter samples, with some having 80 to 90% white participants. Since these drugs will be used to treat all people, diverse samples are needed to determine the efficacy and side effects that can vary across ethnicity and sex. The 1993 National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act that required greater inclusion of women and minorities in NIH research samples did improve the proportion of female subjects, but not so much for minority groups. Even for diseases that disproportionately affect marginalized groups, those groups are grievously underrepresented in the clinical trials. 

One such disease is COVID-19. Even though the rates of infection, severity, and death are greater for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans, these groups are underrepresented in clinical trials. Trials for drugs to treat COVID-19 did not accurately reflect the most affected populations at the research sites. Some studies also did not report the race and ethnicity of participants as required by the FDA. Remdesivir has shown to somewhat decrease recovery time, but since disease severity and outcomes are worse for minority groups, the benefits of improvement may not necessarily extend to them. This is why proportional representation of affected populations is so important in clinical trials for drugs.

One cause for lack of diversity in clinical trials is that minority groups can be unwilling or unable to take part, for reasons including fear of discrimination, lack of time or resources, inaccessibility of recruitment centers, language barriers, and fear of exploitation based in historical precedent. However, these barriers should be on the researchers to address, not on the marginalized groups. A possible solution could be to have the FDA enforce that drugs should be tested on samples that demographically reflect the populations that will be using them.

In the end, research institutions and scientists need to examine their biases in order to determine who they are serving, and then who they mean to serve. Efforts to increase diversity cannot be passive, but instead should involve active recruitment and work to eliminate the barriers in place. In an academic institution, that might mean a more inclusive work environment and better outreach and mentorship programs. For clinical trials, this could be reducing the financial burden of participation and building better relationships with minority communities that may have been hurt in the past. Science is meant to help people, so we need to be better moving forward, as well as acknowledge the damage scientists have done in the past.

Suleman Hussain’s Journey into Biomedical Research

Antigens are foreign substances which induce an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies. The antibodies then latch on to the foreign substance in an attempt to mark them to be destroyed. This ability to bind to specific molecules makes antigens ideal probes in cell research, where they are used to latch onto, and thus help isolate and identify, molecules of interest in and on cells. Suleman Hussain, a researcher in the lab of Daniel Higginson and Simon Powell at MSK, discovered a novel and efficient way of preparation, fixation, and embedding of tissue for electron microscopy.

His research proved that Antibodies raised against aldehyde-fixed antigens improve sensitivity for post-embedding electron microscopy. To prove their hypothesis, he and his team immunized rabbits with antigen pre-fixed with glutaraldehyde (GA, which is commonly used in electron microscopical investigations). The results were consistent with their hypothesis, thus marking the discovery that will improve future biomedical research in terms of efficiency.

Despite all of his accomplishments, Suleman Hussain has experienced numerous hardships due to his sexuality. Being a member of the LGBTQ community, Hussain had trouble finding himself. He lived in India where homosexuality was criminalized so he kept his true self under covers, hidden from the rest of the world. Hussain grew up Muslim so to this day, his family still doesn’t know that he’s gay or that he’s married. “But I have grown more comfortable and more confident in myself. At this point, if they somehow find out then I’m ready for it.”

The reason why visibility of LGBTQ people in science is so important is because we serve as examples to gay teens, who go through a lot. For them to be inspired to do what they are really capable of, that’s what motivates me to be visible. It’s become much easier now overall than what it was before, but still there are a lot of homeless LGBTQ teens and higher rates of suicide too. So in that sense it’s very important for them to have examples.

-Suleman Hussain

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