Are Blacks More Likely to Get Alzheimer's?

A new study on Alzheimer's and Blacks didn't use the same protocol normally followed with clinical trials of whites.

Photo from Shutterstock

Photo by Shutterstock

Blacks may be at greater risk of getting Alzheimer's than whites, according to a new study. But there are a lot of questions about the research.

Dr. Allan Levey, Director of Emory University's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, said the study was significant as the first large-scale genetic look at the disease in an all-Black sample. But he pointed out that the study was not replicated in another population of Blacks to confirm the findings, which he says is necessary to ensure its validity.

"Had this same study been done in whites, it would never have been published [in the Journal of the American Medical Association]," Levey told Reuters.

Troy Duster, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Backdoor to Eugenics and contributor to Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society, agreed, saying the findings are too preliminary to draw any definitive conclusions.

The study showed that a variation of a gene called ABCA7 may increase Alzheimer's risk in Blacks by about 80 percent, compared with about 10–20 percent in whites. Those are considered modest increases, according to The New York Times; a gene that carries a significant risk would increase the chances of getting a disease by more than 200 percent. And ABCA7 was not very common, indicating that many factors need to be studied to determine the cause of the disease: About nine of every 100 Blacks with Alzheimer's had the gene, compared with six out of 100 who did not have the gene.

To collect this new data, researchers combined genetic information from 18 different Alzheimer's disease centers funded by the National Institutes of Health. They collected information on 6,000 Blacks, a third of whom had late-onset Alzheimer's.

Even the study's own authors note that more work needs to be done, and that disease research is not one-size-fits-all. "These findings suggest that the genetic underpinnings of Alzheimer's disease may vary among different populations—and so should not be treated homogeneously," said Dr. Christiane Reitz, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Non-Biased Clinical Trials

Pharmas working on Alzheimer's drugs, such as Eli Lilly and Company, have strategies for clinical trials in place to ensure that they are getting the most accurate information on medication efficacy in underserved populations.

"Because medicines don't work the same for everyone, we need to understand how medicines work and the safety profile in the patients likely to take them. And because culture can strongly influence how patients define health perception, lifestyle choices and healthcare-seeking behaviors, we need to understand relevant cultural differences that impact patient outcomes," says Dr. Coleman Obasaju, Senior Medical Director, Lilly Oncology and Global Leader, Diversity in Clinical Research.

Lilly Chief Diversity Officer Shaun Hawkins concurs: "Lilly has taken a leadership role in boosting enrollment of diverse populations in clinical trials and making trials more accessible to minority communities. Our clinical diversity strategy is part of our goal to improve health outcomes for all patients. To achieve our goals, we need innovation and we need a diverse and inclusive culture," he says.

Eli Lilly will present on Diversity in Clinical Trials at DiversityInc's Sept. 24 event, Culturally Competent Care: How Diversity Creates Better Patient Outcomes.

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