Carlos Slim Gives $74 Million To Make Genomic Research Less Ethnically-Biased
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Hélu, the world’s 2nd-richest man, is giving an additional $74 million to a genomics center in Boston in order to right a bias in the field–a kind of scientific racism, you might call it. The problem: most samples of DNA analyzed in biomedical research come from people of European descent.
“It’s like doing science with one eye closed,” Dr. Eric Lander, president and director of the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT, the organization receiving Slim’s gift, said in a statement. “There are many discoveries that can only be made by studying non-European populations.”
Slim’s gift, announced Monday afternoon, brings the Mexican tycoon’s total contributions to the institute to $139 million.
Not looking at DNA from a variety of ethnic backgrounds could cause researchers to miss significant, genetic causes of disease in non-European populations–including disease like diabetes that disproportionately affect Latinos. The new donation will fund the SIGMA 2 project, which attempts to develop new biomedical approaches to public health problems including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and kidney disease.
Slim and his Carlos Slim Health Institute first launched a joint effort with the Broad Institute–so named for donors Eli and Edythe L. Broad (Broad is No. 191 as of FORBES’ world billionaires ranking in March)–with an initial $65 million donation in 2010. That effort yielded some significant results. First, it identified a genetic variant in Latin Americans that predisposes them to type 2 diabetes. (The variant is absent in Europeans.) The researchers also found new genetic drivers of breast cancer, lymphoma, head and neck cancer, among others. And the Mexico-US team discovered a gene for medullary cystic kidney disease type 1, a disorder that ultimately results in dialysis or kidney transplantation.