Most clinical trials done in the U.S. and Europe are designed to find drugs, tests or treatments that work best for everyone. The problem is that the people taking part in clinical trials have tended to be healthy, middle-aged males of European descent. The result is that the generic, idealized human body that is meant to represent “everyone” doesn’t really do a good job of that.

Differences in age, gender and race can mean a treatment that works wonderfully for a young white guy could have unexpected side effects or be less effective in an older woman of color. For example, the devices used to measure the oxygen content of a person’s blood consistently report higher numbers for people with dark skin – this is because the trial that tested the accuracy of pulse oximeters almost certainly didn’t have enough people of color. These bad readings led to worse care for African Americans during the pandemic because doctors were getting incorrect information from inadequately tested equipment.

Now imagine the other end of the spectrum, an approach to medicine that would give every person a treatment that is best suited for them based on their race, age, genetics and even social and environmental demographics. This is the promise of precision medicine.

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast we speak to Julia Liu, a gastroenterologist at Morehouse School of Medicine, Jennifer Miller, a physician and bioethicist at Yale University and Keith Yamamoto, a cellular biologist and director of the precision medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco about the path to precision medicine and how correcting bias in clinical trials can improve the health of people today and in the future.

The Conversation Weekly brings you insight into some of the most interesting research being done around the world. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Amazon.

Also today: 

Daniel Merino

Associate Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast

Most clinical trials overrepresent young white males. Andresr/Digital Vision via Getty Images

Lack of diversity in clinical trials is leaving women and patients of color behind and harming the future of medicine

Daniel Merino, The Conversation; Nehal El-Hadi, The Conversation

Medicine works better when the treatments are tailored to fit each individual person’s biology and history. A first step is increasing diversity in clinical trials, but the end goal is precision medicine.

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The Conversation Quiz 🧠

  • Here’s the first question of this week’s edition:

    Which of the following was not among President Joe Biden's requests to Congress in his State of the Union address?

    1. A. Cap the cost of insulin for everyone at $35
    2. B. Ban assault weapons "once and for all"
    3. C. Create a minimum tax for billionaires
    4. D. Outlaw Chinese balloons in American airspace

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