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The Affinity Column: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within Biotechnology

Melinda Verdone July 1, 2020
The Affinity Column: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within Biotechnology

Significant events have occurred in the U.S. since the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. This pivotal moment sparked nationwide protests against police and the unequal treatment of people of color. Unfortunately, minority populations are also underrepresented in biomedical research and affected to a greater extent by health crises, with the COVID-19 pandemic serving as the most recent example. 

Here at UW Extended Campus and within the University of Wisconsin MS in Applied Biotechnology program, we take matters of equity and diversity very seriously. Our goal is to provide an inclusive educational environment accessible to all students, regardless of their abilities, backgrounds, identities, or affiliations. Achieving this ideal includes pointing out where we can do better. Therefore, this month’s blog post is dedicated to bringing to light racial and gender inequalities within the field of biotechnology.

What I’m listening to…

Of the patients who contract COVID-19, people of color are twice as likely to die from it—a startling statistic. Unequal impacts of disease have also been observed previously with other outbreaks, such as HIV and diphtheria. Early on, COVID-19 data that included ethnic and racial breakdown for the disease were difficult to obtain and, in some cases, this information was only provided after lawsuits or persistent requests. Limited reporting of patient information makes it difficult to determine the underlying factors contributing to disparity in disease outcomes.

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What I’m watching…

Despite efforts to diversify participant populations in clinical trials, people of color enrolled in investigational drug research studies remain woefully underrepresented. One reason for this disparity is simply the inability to attain transportation to clinical sites. As a result, we lose out on the valuable data required to predict how new drug treatments will affect minority populations.   

What I’m reading…

When I first worked in drug discovery, I was shocked to learn that all the mice that were used in our studies were male, a common practice in animal research. Essentially, any results obtained were pre-biased toward effectiveness in the male sex. Recent efforts have been made to include more female subjects, however sex inclusivity in biological studies is still somewhat of an afterthought. Consequently, differences in responses to diseases and drugs are often only discovered after reaching the larger population.

About the author: Dr. Melinda Verdone is the program manager of the 100% online University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Applied Biotechnology program. She earned her M.S. in Microbiology and her Ed.D. in Higher Education and has more than 20 years of biotechnology experience working in research and development and higher education.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Applied Biotechnology program by contacting a knowledgeable enrollment adviser at 1-877-UW-LEARN (895-3276) or learn@uwex.edu.

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