OU Center Examines How Genomic Information Impacts Medical Care of Native American Communities

A University of Oklahoma Center on American Indian and Alaska Native Genomic Research will examine the impact of genomic information on American Indian and Alaska Native communities and health care systems. A National Institutes of Health grant for $3,611,308 will allow the OU research team to collaborate with the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, the Chickasaw Nation and Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, to study knowledge and attitudes about genomics.

Paul Spicer, professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, and OU Center for Applied Social Research, leads the research effort. Co-principal investigators are Cecil Lewis, professor in the OU Department of Anthropology and co-director of the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research; and Amanda Cobb-Greetham, professor in the OU Department of Native American Studies, and the OU Native Nations Center.

The OU Center will focus on research, education and training on the implications of genomics in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Native communities have been at the forefront of debates about genomics in society, and the proposed Center seeks to advance these dialogues through deliberation, identifying where opportunities to develop this knowledge may lie and to articulate protocols that maximize the value of this work to tribal communities.

The Center is equally concerned with identifying the potential problems with genomic knowledge and identifying protections for Native communities that may choose to engage in such research. The program draws on OU’s strengths in cultural and biological anthropology, Native American studies, law and communication. Scientists from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation also lend expertise in the science of genomics.

The National Human Genome Research Institute’s Centers of Excellence in Ethics, Legal and Social Implications Research program was established in 2004 to bring together experts in wide-ranging fields—bioethics, law, behavioral and social sciences, epidemiology, public health, public policy, genomics and clinical research—to study the potential societal implications of genomic information and research. These projects help develop public policy and guidelines for research, in addition to educating the next generation of researchers. For additional information, contact Spicer at paul.spicer@ou.edu.