Genome Project Finds Race Disparity Cause

Gene variants show why white blood cell counts vary by race and ethnicity

(RxWiki News) It is known that differences among white blood cell counts vary by race or ethnicity. Scientists have recently discovered the genes responsible for those differences in white blood cell counts.

Three genome studies have helped National Institutes of Health researchers identify 15 gene variants that help determine the diversity of white blood cell counts among whites, blacks and Japanese.

"Leukemia patients must protect their immune systems."

The combined studies were the first to examine why some populations have fewer or greater white blood cell counts. The study examined the genomes of tens of thousands of people.

As part of the immune system, white blood cells fight infections and diseases. Measurement of these blood cells can be used to identify some infections, cancers and immune system disorders. Previous studies have suggested that higher white blood cell counts could lead to an increased health risk, including a greater risk of heart disease.

A portion of the gene variants discovered are responsible for altering the total number of white blood cells, while some of the gene variants affect only one specific cell subtype such as neutrophils, lymphocytes and monocytes.

The discovery could be used to identify disease risks earlier in life and may lead to gene therapies such as boosting white blood cells in immune compromised people or reducing them in leukemia patients.

The study was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the National Institute on Aging. Three articles were published in journal PLoS Genetics.

Review Date: 
July 6, 2011