Life After the 'Die-In' - Diversity in Education and Research

By Leland Kim

Addressing Race in Education

Each of UCSF's four professional schools – dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy –  and the Graduate Division have diversity as a priority.

  • Last year the School of Medicine was the first to admit a “dreamer,” – or an undocumented immigrant brought into the United States as a child – into its program.
  • The School of Dentistry has admitted two “dreamers” for the fall semester.
  • The School of Nursing has incorporated diversity and equity into its classroom training, including courses such as “Integrating Diversity into Courses and Curricula” and “Mentoring to Reduce the Diversity Gap.”
  • The School of Pharmacy has implemented diversity curriculum, including a natural tendencies and cultural competence training for first-year students.
  • The Graduate Division administers two diversity programs: Summer Research Training Programs and STRIDE Postdoc Program to encourage students of color to explore pursuing PhD degrees.
  • The Office of Diversity and Outreach’s “Inside UCSF” program actively reaches out to diverse undergraduate students who have expressed interest in and have shown talent in the sciences.

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Asking Questions about Race in Health Research

The retreat featured several faculty research presentations on how persisting in asking why some diseases or drugs affect people differently by race has lead to fundamental discoveries in disease mechanisms, as well as better clinical care.

As a resident and fellow Carmen Peralta, MD, MAS, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology, said at the retreat she was often told that “studying race disparities in kidney disease is not real science.”

But she, and other researchers around the country, persevered, and the research community ultimately learned that part of the reason that end-stage renal disease – which costs $47 billion a year in the U.S. and disproportionately affects African Americans and Latinos – is related to high risk variants of APOL1, which are more prevalent in those from West Africa, in addition to differences in socioeconomic characteristics, high blood pressure and diabetes

Framing the question in terms of race provided the essential clue that there might be a genetic influence at work in the well-known health disparities in kidney disease. Peralta said the genetic link may also illuminate how kidney disease damages other organs. Since APOL1 may be expressed differently in the blood vessels of the kidney, it may also help solve the problem of why chronic kidney disease leads to cardiovascular disease.

“This is an incredible story for anybody who is interested in understanding how race disparities can improve our knowledge of mechanisms of disease,” she told her colleagues. “The science of health disparities can improve our knowledge of disease and accelerate innovation, one of the purest reasons we do science.”

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