Pharmacogenetics, race, and ethnicity: Social identities and individualized medical care

Morris W. Foster, Richard R. Sharp, John J. Mulvihill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Social categories such as race and ethnicity have long been used in interpreting patient symptoms, diagnosing disease, and predicting therapeutic response. DNA-based diagnostic tests and pharmacogenetic screens could make these uses of social categories largely irrelevant by allowing clinicians to base diagnosis and treatment decisions on the unique genetic features of individual patients. Despite this attractive vision of individualized care, however, social categories are likely to continue playing a significant role in the coming era of genetic medicine. Current uses of social categories in pharmacogenetic research, for example, illustrate how drug development and marketing will perpetuate the use of social categories such as race and ethnicity. Those uses may unintentionally blunt the precision of genetic technologies and pose new threats to socially identifiable populations. These implications suggest the need for greater caution in using social categories as indicators for specific tests or therapies and for federal legislation to protect against discriminatory uses of individuals' genetic information. In addition, more precise social classifications than those presently in use may allow us to realize the full potential of DNA-based technologies, thus minimizing social disparities in health care. Those more precise social classifications should reflect extended patient pedigrees and not the self-reported claims of racial and/or ethnic affiliation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-238
Number of pages7
JournalTherapeutic Drug Monitoring
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2001


  • Ethics
  • Ethnicity
  • Pharmacogenetics
  • Race
  • Research methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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