Carlos Slim Helú, the second-richest man in the world, has a bone to pick with biomedical research: Why are they only testing European populations? To break the add diversity, Slim is donating $74 million to promote human genome analysis on non-White subjects, Forbes reports.
A whopping 96 percent of DNA in biomedical studies, which are analyzed to find the genes that heighten risk for disease, are of European descent. Slim — a Mexican billionaire — was fed up with the “scientific racism,” as Forbes called it, and submitted the generous monetary gift to the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT. In total, Slim has contributed a total of $139 million to rectify the ethnic bias in DNA science.
“It’s like doing science with one eye closed. There are many discoveries that can only be made by studying non-European populations,” said Dr. Eric Lander, president and director of the Broad Institute.
Overlooking non-White subjects for genomic research can cause serious setbacks to DNA discovery. For instance, African-American populations are often predisposed to cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Without the work from researchers at the University of North Carolina, which focused on Black DNA subjects, we wouldn’t know that “genetic variations exist between whites and blacks living in the U.S., leading to less efficient metabolism of glucose and predisposition to diabetes in the blacks,” according to NewsMedical.
Furthering research in diseases that plague non-European populations, Slim’s donations will go towards the SIGMA 2 project, which propels DNA testing for cancer, type II diabetes, and kidney disease.
With an initial donation of $65 million for the Broad Institute in 2010, Slim’s investment yielded fruitful 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,” Forbes said.
For four years, Carlos Slim was the richest man in the world — until Bill Gates regained his spot on top. According to figures from Oct. 29th, Gates has a net worth of $73.5 billion. Slim follows a close second with a net worth of $69.5 billion.