Learn more at the TEDxNorthwesternU "Identity" event on Wednesday, December 15, at 7:00 PM on Northwestern's Evanston campus. For Under Armour Curry 3.5
Northwestern University's first TEDx event, "Identity," will explore how scientific research is redefining who we think we are. Science in Society asked ancestry expert Rick Kittles, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC); and Alice Dreger, PhD, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University; for previews of their talks.
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(BH) You are well known for your work on the genetics of prostate cancer in African Americans. What do we know now about the genetic contribution to prostate cancer susceptibility?
(BH) Alice, in your talk, you'll discuss how science is "dissolving the bright lines between anatomical differences" and what this might mean for a democracy that has been historically shaped by anatomical categories, like race and sex. How is science dissolving these lines?
How do you define yourself? By gender? Race? What about sexuality, origin, or even income?
(AD) As we're learning more and more about how human bodies work, traits that we used to think of as fairly simple or self evident, like race or sex, are increasingly being understood as more complex. So, whereas in the past we thought of things like race and sex involving fairly discreet categories, as we go deeper and deeper into the human body, what we find is that these categories are not so discreet, and that there's a whole lot of blending between types.
An interesting example beyond race and sex is age. A lot of rules in our democracy are set up based on age voting and the draft, for example. Yet, as we look at how humans work, we have to recognize that age is a stand in for what we really mean, which is maturity. The more we look at human maturity, the more it becomes evident that there are different kinds of maturity, and that reaching a certain age doesn't actually guarantee that you've achieved a certain level of maturity, whether that be sexual maturity or military maturity or voting maturity.
more information and to register, visit the event website below.
(BH) Rick, in your talk, you'll discuss how knowledge from genetic research is challenging the notion that race and biology are "inextricably linked," and that using race in biomedical studies can be problematic because of this. Can you tell me more about why?
(RK) For many of the health disparities that we know of, the bulk of them are due to social and cultural determinants, not biological, meaning that there are no clear biological differences that account for the difference in disease. But prostate cancer is one where there is a clear genetic component that accounts for the increased incidence of mortality among African Americans. We've been able to find several regions in the genome where there's an increased risk in African descent people based on higher frequency of these risk alleles (an alternate form of a gene caused by a mutation). That's been consistently found over the last four or five years. Ultimately, this will allow us to better screen for high risk populations, and possibly come up with better treatment targets.
What I'm trying to bring to the medical system is a general philosophy of how to think about these things in a way that's more evidence based and more ethical. I focus especially on the idea of sorting out what's "healthy" and what's "normal," and trying to get away from the concept that you have to be normal to be healthy. I'm also trying to get doctors to focus on what we know about psycho social risk and medical risk, and how we can reduce that risk, instead of just assuming that being different puts you at risk, because it doesn't for all of these conditions.
very hot issue of gay marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act is based on the concept of men being fundamentally different from women in such a way that marriage is considered by some people to be very special, because it can only happen between this type of body and that type of body. But, as I'll discuss in my talk, if we look at the way sex works, we find that there are a lot of people with sex anomalies, and that the discreet categories of male and female are actually very blurry around the edges. So we have to ask the question of why we think there are these solid categories, and why we're basing something like marriage on the presumption of these categories. What is the meaning that we're giving to anatomy when we retain these distinctions?
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self organized events that bring people together to share a TED like experience. Presented by the Center for Genetic Medicine's Silverstein Lecture Series and Science in Society, Northwestern's office for science outreach and public engagement.
(BH) Much of your research and advocacy work has focused on bettering the treatment of intersex people (people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male). What drew you to this field?
(AD) When I was in graduate school, my dissertation director knew that I was interested in gender and science, so he suggested that I look at the history of hermaphrodites. At the time, I didn't even know that intersex happened in humans past the embryonic stage. But as I looked, I learned that it's actually fairly common. I started publishing historical work about intersex, and people with those body types began contacting me and asking for help with the current day intersex rights movement. They convinced me to take a look at what was going on in the existing medical system. I was very surprised to see how outdated, ethically and scientifically, that system seemed. Then I started meeting lots of people with various kinds of sex anomalies and their stories about how they had been Under Armour Drive Highlight 1.5 hurt by the medical system intended to help them were very moving. So I agreed to help, and I ended up becoming one of the leaders of the intersex rights movement. I've done this kind of advocacy work for about 15 years now.
(RK) Race in biomedical research has been used as a proxy for Under Armour Curry 3 Dubfetti
shared biology and shared environment among the so called racial groups. That's been problematic because, as we try to investigate risk factors for disease, it's hard to tease apart those different components biology and environment. So, with the movement in genetics and genomics, we're now able to look at genetic ancestry and use that instead of race to group people in our studies. I think it's important that we now have the technology to look beyond the social and political classifications of race and delve deeper into genetic risk based on ancestry.
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