Democratizing Genome Sequencing

Imagine giving a blood sample to researchers with the promise of alleviating the burden of diabetes in your community, only to find your genetic information used to challenge your culture’s origin stories. Deception is not uncommon in the “helicopter genetics” approach of quickly-in/quickly-out science that exploits Indigenous populations on the margins of survival. By betraying Indigenous peoples’ trust, scientists squander the potential of genetics to address poor health outcomes in these communities. Indigenous people suffer the worst health outcomes of any minority group. This disparity worsens as distrust of western medicine deepens among Native people whose cultures and rights have been abused. But Indigenous people are not averse to science; we’ve embraced it for millennia through practices like astronavigation, ethnobotany and sustainability. Our idea is to integrate Indigenous knowledge with western science: to indigenize genomic research. IndiGenomics is about one simple idea: harnessing the power of genomics to improve minority health outcomes in a way that respects Indigenous values and empowers young Indigenous scientists.

 

University of Washington, School of Medicine circa 2011 What began as a journal club for Indigenous graduate students (two Genomic Science PhD candidates and one Master’s of Pharmacogenomics candidate (Navajo, Kanaka Maoli, & Purhepecha)) frustrated by the lack of diversity in genome sequencing studies, has blossomed into a diverse stable of Indigenous scientists, academics, lawyers, and politicians from the Pacific Northwest championing a common cause: Avoid the exploration of Indigenous people in genetic research.

 

Simply put, genomics for the people, by the people.