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Sociologist Troy Duster to Discuss the Role of Race in Clinical Medicine at MBL Bioethics Lecture, August 2

WOODS HOLE—Troy Duster, professor of sociology at New York University and Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, will offer the Marine Biological Laboratory's (MBL's) Fifth Annual Bioethics Lecture on Tuesday, August 2 at 4:00 pm in the Lillie Auditorium, MBL Street, Woods Hole. The lecture, titled "A Post-Genomic Surprise: The Increasing Significance of Race in Debates and Practical Applications of Human Molecular Genetics,” sponsored by Drs. Gerald and Ruth Fischbach, is free and open to the public.

At a March, 2000 news conference at the White House, President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair jointly hosted and celebrated the completion of the "first draft" of the full map and sequence of the human genome, and Francis Collins and Craig Venter stepped forward to agree on one thing—that the Human Genome Project provided definitive evidence that racial categories have no meaning at the level of the DNA. The oft-quoted figure of "we are all 99.9 per cent alike" at the DNA level became a mantra for the next few years.

At the same time, there was a "turn to difference" in the new fields of pharmacogenomics and pharmacotoxicology, aided by supercomputers and the capacity to do analyses of the (at least) three million points of difference between any two individuals at the DNA level. This has generated a huge debate about the role of race in clinical medicine, culminating in the approval by the FDA in late June 2005 of the first race-based drug, BiDil, In addition, the whole arena of "ancestral informative markers" has burgeoned, both as "recreational" knowledge about ancestral origins, but as well in forensics, as a means of predicting the race of a crime suspect based upon tissue samples left at a crime scene. These converging developments are ushering in a new era of the reinscription of race as a category in biology, clinical medicine, and forensics, and the implications for social science and public policy are significant.

Dr. Duster has served as a member and then chair of the joint NIH/DOE advisory committee on Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project (The ELSI Working Group).  He received his undergraduate degree and doctorate from Northwestern University.  Among his many honors, Dr. Duster has received the 2002 Hatfield Scholars Award, the 2001 Du-Bois-Johnson-Frazier Award from the American Sociological Association and the 2000-2001 Social Scientist to the Nation Advisory Commission for the Decade of Behavior.  In addition, Dr. Duster is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Social Science Research Council, and last year served as chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Now the current President of the American Sociological Association, Dr. Duster has authored many works including Cultural Perspectives on Biological Knowledge (co-edited with Karen Garrett) and most recently, Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Colorblind Society (co-author Brown, et al., 2003).
The Annual Bioethics Lecture was established in 2001 to offer an opportunity for a formal discussion of bioethical issues to reach a broad and diverse audience of scientists and concerned citizens.  Because so many biologists, including M.D. and Ph.D. candidates, work and receive their training at the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL provides an excellent forum for addressing ethical dilemmas emerging in biomedicine. Students in MBL courses are especially encouraged to participate in this important seminar.

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The Marine Biological Laboratory is an internationally known, independent, nonprofit research and educational institution. It conducts the highest level of original research and education in biology, including the biomedical and environmental sciences. MBL hosts research programs in cell and developmental biology, ecosystems studies, molecular biology and evolution, neurobiology, behavior, global infectious diseases and sensory physiology. Its intensive graduate-level educational program is renowned throughout the life sciences. Founded in 1888, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the western hemisphere.