Doctor foresees benefits for Indians
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SEPTEMBER 19, 2000

Advances in human genome research will lead to benefits for American Indians and Alaska Natives, says Dr. Clifton Poodry.

Poodry is a director within the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Along with the Indian Health Service, Poodry's Division of Minority Opportunities in Research recently announced a new program aimed at helping tribes conduct their own research into medical conditions and disease affecting their communities.

Like most Americans, Native Americans often treat their diseases and conditions with drugs. Whether used to help one's body utilize insulin or regulate high-blood pressure, medicines are a daily fact of life for many in Indian Country, and it is in this area Poodry foresees genome research changing the way Natives battle diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions.

"One of the things that will really benefit Indian communities is going to be how doctors choose medicines," says Poodry. "People recognize that not all medications work for everybody. Better prescription is one of the promises of the future."

Often times, Poodry says, one drug which helps one person won't have the same effect on another. But if a doctor knows a patient's genetic makeup, he might be able to prescribe a more suitable drug.

"Imagine if you could be more assured that when you go in to see a doctor, if he knows a particular drug isn't going to work, he'll prescribe a different one," says Poodry. "Or if he knows that one drug is safe in 95 percent of the population but toxic in you, it will eliminate some of the trial and error."

But Poodry cautions that Native Americans can't rely on genome research to cure all of the ills which affect Indian Country. Poodry says the key to battling diabetes, obesity, and drug and alcohol abuse is changing behaviors.

"In something like diabetes -- yes it's really linked to genes. But the environment plays a much greater role," says Poodry. "You can have genes that predispose you to diabetes, but if you have a healthy life, you can go through your entire life and never become fully diabetic."

With diabetes in children showing up earlier and earlier, adopting healthier behaviors is necessary in order to stop the "terrible downward spiral" in Indian Country, says Poodry.

"Its one thing to say 'Yes, we over eat,'" he adds. "Its another thing to say 'How are we going to change that?'"

Relevant Links:
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences -
Division of Minority Opportunities in Research, NIGMS -

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