Need to Know | September 14, 2017 | African Ancestry


IT BEGAN AS A JOURNEY TO SELF DISCOVERY. BUT IT’S A QUEST THAT HASN’T QUITE COME
TO AN END. AND INTERNATIONAL LEADER ON RACE AND GENETICS AND HEALTH DISPARITIES – RICK
KITTLES – WOULD LIKELY SAY, THAT’S A GOOD THING. SO WOULD THE MORE THAN 150-THOUSAND-PEOPLE
THAT HAVE UTILIZED THE COMPANY HE CO-FOUNDED, AFRICAN ANCESTRY, TO HELP CONNECT THE D-N-A
DOTS TO THEIR FAMILY TREE. BUT THE DISCOVERIES DON’T STOP THERE. THE R-I-T ALUM AND DIRECTOR OF THE DIVISION
OF POPULATION GENETICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA IS IN ROCHESTER. HE’S THE KEYNOTE FOR THE 2017 PATIENTS FIRST
AWARDS LUNCHEON FOR JORDAN HEALTH FOUNDATION. BEFORE THAT KEYNOTE – RICK KITTLES JOINS US
IN THE STUDIO TO TALK GENETICS, ANCESTRY AND HOW IT ALL CONNECTS TO HEALTH. RICK KITTLES, WELCOME, IT IS AN HONOR TO HAVE YOU HERE. (RICK) THANK YOU
(HELENE) I UNDERSTAND, AND YOU CAN CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG HERE, YOU HAD AN INTEREST
AT A VERY YOUNG AGE IN BIOLOGY AND MATH AND YOU USE TO LOOK AROUND YOUR CLASSROOM AND
YOU WOULD LOOK AT THE DIFFERENT SHADES OF SKIN COLOR, AND THE DIFFERENT HAIR TEXTURES
AND YOU WOULD WONDER, WHY? HOW DID SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN? TALK TO ME A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THAT CURIOSITY
ULTIMATELY LED YOU TO BECOME THIS REALLY WORLD RENOWNED GENETICIST. I UNDERSTAND IT’S A PERSONAL STORY CONNECTION
TO THAT. (RICK) YEAH, I WAS JUST ALWAYS INTERESTED
IN VARIATION AND DIVERSITY. I WOULD LOOK AROUND ROOMS AND JUST LOOK IN
AWE AND APPRECIATION OF HOW DIFFERENT FOLKS LOOKED. I KNEW THERE HAD TO BE SOME GENETIC COMPONENT. YOU KNOW, WE INHERIT THESE TRAITS FROM OUR
PARENTS. WE RESEMBLE THEM IN SOME WAYS AND WE ARE A
MIXTURE OF THEIR GENETICS. AND SO, IT ALWAYS… LOOKING AT SKIN COLOR, BODY HEIGHT, BODY WEIGHT,
BUT ALSO LOOKING AT EYE COLOR AD HAIR TEXTURE, STUFF LIKE THAT, I WAS ALWAYS EXCITED ABOUT
TRYING TO DECIPHER IN HOW GENETICS PLAYED A ROLE IN THE BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY OF MAN.
AND SO, I WOULD READ A LOT ABOUT IT. IN SCHOOL I TOOK COURSES THAT WOULD HELP ME
UNDERSTAND IT BETTER. I KNEW THAT WHEN YOU LOOKED, FOR INSTANCE,
AFRICAN AMERICANS, IT WAS SUCH A LARGE SET OF DIVERSITY THERE IN TERMS OF HOW AFRICAN
AMERICANS LOOK. WE COME IN ALL TYPES, RIGHT. AND SO, I SAID AFRICA MUST BE THE ROOT OF
A LOT OF THIS GENETIC VARIATION. AND, IN FACT IT IS FOR HUMAN KIND. IN FACT MODERN HUMANS STARTED IN AFRICA AND
THAT’S WHERE THE ROOT OF ALL OF US IN TERMS OF OUR GENETICS ARISES FROM. (HELENE) I WANT TO POINT THIS OUT. YOU COFOUNDED, IN 2003, AFRICAN ANCESTRY. IT HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS AN INTERNATIONAL
LEADER IN HELPING TRACE MATERNAL AND PATERNAL LINEAGES OF AFRICAN DESCENT. SO THE DATABASE THAT YOU HAVE, YOU’VE COLLECTED
OVER 30,000 INDIGENOUS SAMPLES YOU BEGAN TO COLLECT SOME TIME AGO. SO TALK TO ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT MAKES
AFRICAN ANCESTRY SO DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS THAT EXIST, LIKE ANCESTRY.COM? (RICK) I STARTED MY CAREER AS A GENETIC EPIDEMIOLOGIST
WHEN I WAS AT HOWARD UNIVERSITY BACK IN ’99-2000. AND ONE OF THE THINGS I NOTICED, I WAS TRYING
TO UNDERSTAND GENETICS OF CANCER IN AFRICAN AMERICAN, IN PARTICULAR PROSTATE CANCER. I NOTICED THAT OUR DATABASES AND OUR UNDERSTANDING
OF GENETIC VARIATION IN AFRICAN DESCENT PEOPLE WERE VERY LIMITED. I WANTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT, TO COLLECT OR
DATA TO REALLY UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT IN WHICH WE ARE. WE PLACE OUR GENETICS INTO A PARTICULAR CONTEXT,
OUR BODY OF VARIATION. AND SO I SAY, WELL I REALLY NEED TO START
COLLECTING DATA. I WORKED WITH ANTHROPOLOGISTS, GENETICISTS,
AND HISTORIANS TO TRY TO COLLECT DATA THAT WAS IMPORTANT OF THE AFRICAN, THE HISTORY
OF AFRICANS. AND A LOT OF THAT IS CENTERED AROUND WEST
AFRICA AND THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE. BEING AT HOWARD UNIVERSITY WAS IMPORTANT BECAUSE
IT WAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST MEDICAL SCHOOLS FRO TRAINING DOCTORS FROM AFRICA. YOU KNOW, STUDENTS WHO WANTED TO BECOME PHYSICIANS. THERE WERE A LOT OF FOLKS FROM CAMEROON, NIGERIA,
AND SOUTHERN SENEGAL WHO CAME TO GET DEGREES. I WORKED WITH A LOT OF THEM. I SENT STUDENTS TO AFRICA. I WENT THERE MYSELF. I WORKED WITH A LOT OF HISTORIANS AND ARCHEOLOGISTS
ALSO. WE WERE ABLE TO AMASS THIS VERY COMPREHENSIVE
DATABASE THAT ALLOWS US TO LOOK AT AFRICAN AMERICAN GENETICS IN THE CONTEXTS OF PRESENT
DAY AFRICAN PEOPLE. (HELENE) IN AN INTERVIEW YOU DID A FEW YEARS
AGO, YOU SAID NOW THERE’S THIS INTERSECTION BETWEEN SCIENCE AND SOCIETY. YOU SAID IT’S CAUSED SOME CONFLICT TO A
CERTAIN DEGREE. BUT IT HAS ALSO HELPED US TO RECONCILE SOME
OF THE UNCOMFORTABLE HISTORIES OF VARIOUS ETHNIC GROUPS. TALK TO ME A LITTLE ABOUT WHY. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OPPOSING VIEWS? WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS HERE IN RELATION TO
THIS? (RICK) THIS COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED ON RACE AND
RACISM AND SEGREGATION. SO WE HAVE THIS HISTORY, THIS REALLY SAD COMPONENT
OF AMERICAN HISTORY THAT IS UNCOMFORTABLE FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE TO TRY AND DEAL WITH. IN FACT, THAT’S WHY I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT
IT’S GOING TO TAKE A LONG TIME BEFORE WE ARE ABLE TO REALLY LET GO OF THESE ISSUE OF
RACE IN THE UNITED STATES. WHEN WE TRY TO UNDERSTAND FAMILY HISTORY AND
ANCESTRY AND PLACE IT IN THE CONTEXT OF RACE. RACE REALLY ISN’T A BIOLOGICAL CONCEPT. IT IS MORE OF A SOCIAL, POLITICAL CONSTRUCT. WHEN WE OVERLAY GENETICS AND SOCIAL POLITICAL
RACE AND ANCESTRY IT DOES CREATE SOME TENSIONS. FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN WE THINK ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICANS,
WE THINK THAT ALL AFRICAN AMERICANS HAVE A LOT AFRICAN ANCESTRY AND THAT’S NOT NECESSARILY
THE CASE. BASED ON FAMILY HISTORY YOU MAY HAVE SIGNIFICANT
EUROPEAN ANCESTRY OR NATIVE AMERICAN ANCESTRY BUT STILL CALL YOURSELF AFRICAN AMERICAN. WE HAVE TO REALLY UNDERSTAND THAT THE GENETICS
AND THE SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY IS ACTUALLY CREATING WAYS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR US TO CREATE NEW
IDENTITIES AND NEW TERMINOLOGIES OF HOW WE DEFINE OURSELVES. ONE OF THE ISSUES I THINK IS FOLKS SAY YOU
REALLY USING THIS TO RARIFY RACE. NO WE’RE NOT. WE’RE DECONSTRUCTING RACE. WE ARE SAYING RACE IS NOT THIS GENETIC ENTITY
FOR HUMANS. IN FACT WHAT WE ARE DOING, WE ARE ALL PART
OF THE HUMAN FAMILY IN ONE WAY OR THE OTHER. (HELENE) WELL YOUR VARIED ROLES AND EXPERTISE
ENCOMPASSES RACE, GENETIC ANCESTRY, CANCER GENETICS, AND ALSO HEALTH DISPARITIES. THE THING THAT I THINK IS SO FASCINATING IS
THIS INTERSECTION, THIS CROSS BETWEEN GENETICS AND ANCESTRY AND HEALTH. EXPLAIN HOW THAT WORKS. (RICK) WELL, WE INHERIT OUR DNA FROM OUR PARENTS
SOME OF THESE GENETICS VARIATIONS THAT WE INHERIT ACTUALLY LEAVE US SUSCEPTIBLE, HIGHER
RISK, FOR PARTICULAR DISEASES SUCH AS CANCER. WE DIDN’T JUST INHERIT GENETICS, BUT WE
INHERIT BEHAVIORS LIKE DIET. THERE ARE THESE OLD GHANAIAN PROVERBS. THE ONE POT IN THE FAMILY THAT EVERYBODY EATS
FROM, OR WHATEVER, THAT’S A MAJOR SORT OF COMPONENT IN TERMS OF THE TRANSITION OR TRANSMISSION
OF DIET. DIET AND LIFESTYLE ALSO ARE IMPORTANT. WE INHERIT THESE THINGS. THERE IS WHAT WE CALL A GENETIC HISTORY, THERE’S
A DISEASE HISTORY, AND BEHAVIORAL HISTORY THAT’S ALL INTERTWINED TO CREATE YOUR RISK
PROFILE FOR DISEASE. NOW WE ARE AT A POINT WHERE WE CAN REALLY
LOOK AT THE GENES THAT WE INHERIT AND HOW THAT SOME OF THE VARIATIONS IN THOSE GENES
IMPACT RISK FOR DISEASE. WE ARE DOING THAT IN THE CONTEXT OF DIET,
LIFESTYLE, AND REALLY INTERESTING AND SOPHISTICATED WAYS NOW. THIS IS AN EXCITING TIME. (HELENE) TALK TO ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW
IS THAT BENEFICIAL FOR THOSE POPULATIONS THAT ARE DEALING WITH HEALTH DISPARITIES. (RICK) RIGHT, HEALTH DISPARITIES ARE FOR THE
MOST PART SOCIALLY DETERMINED, MEANING DIET, BEHAVIOR, LIFESTYLE, OPPORTUNITY, ACCESS TO
HEALTH CARE, COMPLIANCE WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN, STUFF LIKE THAT. BUT THEN THERE ARE SOME OF THESE DISEASES
THAT HAVE A STRONG COMPONENT. FOR EXAMPLE, PROSTATE CANCER IS ONE OF THEM,
TRIPLE NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER. WHERE THERE IS A STRONG GENETIC FAMILY HISTORY
THAT’S CONTRIBUTING TO THAT DISPARITY. THE BULK OF THE DISPARITIES, TYPE 2 DIABETES,
HYPERTENSION, REALLY ARE MORE SOCIALLY DETERMINED. WE COULD CREATE INTERVENTIONS THAT ARE MORE
SOCIAL THAT WOULD AN IMPACT THEN JUST STUDYING THE GENETICS, YOU SEE WHAT I’M SAYING. SO IT’S NOT JUST AN EASY SORT OF ANSWER
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT DISPARITIES. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE ARE LOOKING AT IS
HOW DO WE ACCESS SOMEONE’S BASELINE RISK BASED ON THEIR GENETICS AND FAMILY HISTORY? FOR INSTANCE, IF YOUR RISK IS HIGHER FOR PROSTATE
CANCER AND YOU’RE 25-35 YEARS OLD, YOU AND YOUR DOCTOR SHOULD KNOW THAT YOU SHOULD BE
SCREENED MORE REGULARLY ONCE YOU GET IN YOUR 40’S, 45 YEARS OLD, BECAUSE YOU’RE AT
AN INCREASED RISK. THOSE THINGS COULD BE USEFUL, NOT JUST FOR
PHYSICIANS BUT FOR THE PATIENT TOO TO UNDERSTAND THAT I HAVE THIS INCREASED RISK. I NEED TO BE SCREENED MORE AGGRESSIVELY. I NEED TO STAY ON TOP OF THIS BEFORE IT GETS
TOO LATE. (HELENE) BEFORE WE CLOSE, I HAVE TO ASK I
UNDERSTAND THAT A NUMBER OF CELEBRITIES HAVE PARTICIPATED IN SEEKING THEIR ROOT SAND YOU
SERVE AS A DNA EXPERT FOR THE PBS PROGRAM ASSISTING IN THAT EFFORT. CAN YOU TELL ME ANY INTERESTING CELEBRITY
DNA STORIES OR FINDINGS OR HOW SOMEONE MAY HAVE REACTED THAT MEANT SOMETHING TO YOU? (RICK) THEY VARY. JUST LIKE THE AVERAGE PERSON ON THE STREET
WE HAVE SO MANY NARRATIVES. WE HAVE SO MANY DIFFERENT STORIES. SO, I’M EXCITED WHEN…I WAS EXCITED WHEN
ISAIAH WASHINGTON RECEIVED HIS TEST RESULT. I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE SEEN IT? IT WAS ON GOOD MORNING AMERICA WHERE HE GOT
SO EXCITED WHEN HE FOUND OUT HE HAD ANCESTRY FROM SIERRA LEON. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I REALLY LIKED AND
APPRECIATED WAS BEYOND JUST THAT LEVEL OF EXCITEMENT. HE ACTUALLY WENT BACK TO SIERRA LEON, WAS
ABLE TO GET DUAL CITIZENSHIP WITH BUILDING HOSPITALS AND HOMES. IT WAS ONE OF THOSE SITUATIONS WHERE HE BECAME
AN ADVOCATE BECAUSE OF THAT CONNECTION THAT HE HAD WITH DNA. THAT’S WHAT I REALLY WANTED TO SEE AS WE
STARTED THIS PROCESS. ((INTERVIEW)) UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVE TO CLOSE – RICK KITTLES
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME. THE GOOD NEWS – YOU CAN HEAR MORE FROM RICK
KITTLES. HE’LL BE SPEAKING AT THE 2017 PATIENTS FIRST
AWARDS LUNCHEON FOR JORDAN HEALTH. THAT’S THIS FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH AT 12P-M
AT THE ROCHESTER RIVERSIDE CONVENTION CENTER. GET YOUR TICKETS AT: JORDAN-HEALTH-FOUNDATION-DOT-ORG.
AND BE SURE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT AFRICAN-ANCESTRY ONLINE. JUST GO TO: AFRICAN-ANCESTRY-DOT-COM.

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