By J. K. Schmid
The Lieber Institute for Brain Development announced the creation of the first African-American Neuroscience Research Initiative (AANRI) Monday.
The Lieber Institute, a Baltimore nonprofit research center, boasts the largest repository of human brains in the world.
Lieber also possesses the largest inventory of African-American brains in the world.
The brains are used in research that explores the link between mind and body looking at physical characteristics of post-mortem brains to discover treatments for psychiatric and psychological ailments including post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia.
“Research shows that African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, and twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease,” a March press release said. “Suicide rates for African-American children under the age of 13 are twice as high as children of European ancestry. African-American infant death rates and premature birth rates also are twice that of European ancestry Americans.”
Expanding a collection of African-American brains is hoped to give the AANRI expanded knowledge in the treatment of Black Americans and mitigate risks.
“Research has long been hampered by a lack of diversity in basic science and in clinical trials, particularly in the field of neuroscience,” the release reads. “For example, 81 percent of large-scale genomic datasets are of European descent, even though this group makes up less than 16 percent of the world population.”
The social construct of race has long been critiqued in the medical community. Race may not matter, but “ancestry matters,” representatives of Lieber say.
While genomics (the study of a complete set of DNA) research continues the history of humanity in the African continent, AANI focuses it work on the diaspora in the United States and throughout the Americas.
The limited, that is, White, sampling of genomes (“full” patterns of DNA) exposes Black Americans to risks of suboptimal to dangerous drug interactions and other complications in the treatment of mental illness.
Soliciting tissue from Black Americans is a fraught topic in the aftermath of the monstrous experiments in Tuskegee and violations of basic bodily autonomy and consent in the case of Henrietta Lacks. Lieber and AANI are taking careful conciliatory steps to make sure Baltimore’s Black community is invited into something that will be by and for Blacks.
“My clergy colleagues and I have been studying the emerging science behind precision medicine and believe that this technology has potential for finding cures and treatments for diseases that uniquely affect African Americans,” Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway, Sr., principal of the African-American Clergy Medical Research Initiative, said in a statement. “This revolution in medicine has largely left behind ethnic minority groups like African Americans, and it is time to change this.”
This article originally appeared in The Afro.