Their Wildest Dreams: Honoring Juneteenth

Celebrating Pioneering Black Scientists

In the early 1900s, Alice Ball, a University of Hawaii student, revolutionized the treatment for Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) while working on her Master’s degree in chemistry by developing a method to isolate the active compounds of Chaulmoogra oil, creating an injectable and absorbable solution. This became the most effective treatment for leprosy during the early 20th century. Ball was the first Black woman to earn a Master’s degree at the University of Hawaii and the first African American and woman to serve as a chemistry professor there. Tragically, she passed away at age 24 and it took years for her pioneering work, now known as the Ball Method, to be officially recognized.

Dr. Georgia Dunston’s curiosity about why some people recover from illness while others don’t led her to groundbreaking research in human genetics. During her postdoctoral work at the NIH, she partnered with the lead scientist of the Human Genome Project (HGP) to explore the genetic differences in Type 2 Diabetes between West African populations and those in Finland. Concurrently, Dr. Dunston established a laboratory for human immunogenetics at Howard University, adding significant African representation to the HGP. Her lab’s research into the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) system revealed genetic variations that helped connect genetic code to differences in disease manifestation, aiding in preventing organ transplant rejection.

Their Wildest Dreams

This year’s Juneteenth theme, “Their Wildest Dreams,” honors the history, accomplishments and resilience of African Americans. There are countless Black scientists and medical professionals whose accomplishments deserve extra recognition on this day of celebration. Scientists like Ernest Everett Just, PhD, the Forgotten Father of Epigenetics, and James E. Bowman, MD, whose research into the G6PD gene helped determine why Fava beans cause anemia in individuals with this genetic condition. He also published more than ninety works in the field of human genetics. And more recently, Janina M Jeff,PhD, MS, a population geneticist whose work on the human genome aims to develop technology that predicts and treats diseases in underrepresented populations.

Commitment to Equity and Access at Genome Medical

At Genome Medical, we are dedicated to equity, equality and justice. When we created our vision statement of Enabling a World Where Everyone’s Health is Informed by Genetics, we did so knowing that “everyone” meant just that. However, barriers such as geographic location, transportation, healthcare education, and lack of providers or insurance still hinder access to care for many. The healthcare system has a long way to go to ensure everyone receives the care they need.

Improving Access to Care

One of the Healthy People 2030 objectives is Healthcare Access and Quality. And while data on progress for the related objectives is a mixed bag, I am heartened to see progress made on Reducing the proportion of people who can’t get medical care when they need it. But, racial disparities in healthcare persist. According to the AAMC, only 5 percent of active physicians identify as Black or African American. While we celebrate the achievements of pioneers like Alice Ball and Georgia Dunston, we remain committed to addressing inequities and racism within our institutions, workplaces and the healthcare system.

Genome Medical is a teaching organization and as the need for genetic counseling services continues to grow, we are committed to continue hosting students several times a year to expand our industry, and look for ways to attract more people of color to our field.

Embracing Telehealth to Reduce Barriers

Healthy People 2030 now includes the objective to increase the use of telehealth to improve access to health services. It’s still in the research phase, but it is considered a high priority public health issue, and it aligns with the work we are doing with our healthcare partners to reduce barriers to care by providing telehealth genetic counseling services. By working with partners like FDNA, we are empowering patients in medically underserved communities to identify potential health conditions and connect with specialists quickly without having to leave their homes. We are also an in-network provider for 130 million people across North America through our partnerships with most major health insurance providers.

Dedication to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB)

At Genome Medical, we believe strongly in the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Juneteenth provides us with an opportunity not only to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history but to also reflect on the ongoing journey towards justice and equality. It reminds us of the importance of standing together in solidarity with our colleagues and communities, and of fostering an inclusive environment where every voice is heard and respected.

Over the past year, we have continued our commitment to creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and empowered. That work has included:

  • Implementing our first Employee Resource Groups: Mental Health Advocacy and Working Parents.
  • Partnering with Hiring Our Heroes to connect the military community to potential job opportunities at Genome Medical.
  • Continuing our unconscious bias training offerings to all employees.
  • Continuing our commitment to celebrating and recognizing cultural holidays throughout the year.
  • Supporting diversity in research: We actively support research initiatives to foster diversity in genomic health data. We also support clinical trials that target rare and hereditary diseases that adversely impact the Black community.
  • Creating access for underserved communities by increasing reimbursement coverage for our services, providing ready access to our Patient Financial Assistance program, and continuing our membership with the Health Evolution Health Equity Pledge to collect and review data about the race, ethnicity, language and sex of our patient population and act to reduce disparities based on that information.

Reflecting on Juneteenth

As we observe Juneteenth, we honor the countless number of Black people who overcame adversity and racism to advance the field of genetic medicine. Their efforts make it possible for us to provide genetic services and increase access to care for those who need it most. We live in a better world because of them.

Happy Juneteenth!