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Medical Response Not All Black and White

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"One size does not fit all," Wood says, when it comes to fitting the proper dose of a drug to any one person, regardless of race.

In the meantime, doctors tailor their drugs and doses the best way they know -- by trial and error. And whether a specific drug and dose will prevent hospitalization or death -- the kinds of things measured by the NEJM study -- is all but impossible to determine at the time a patient is being treated in the doctor's office, Wood says.

"One day we will be able to do better," Wood tells WebMD. "In the meantime, ethnic differences in response to treatment can point the way to understanding genetic differences."

Yancy argues that the disproportionate effects of certain diseases in certain populations make further research on racial differences unavoidable. He notes that in the U.S. heart failure affects 3.5% of black men and 3% of black women, compared to 2% of white men and 1.5% of white women.Black Americans develop symptoms at an earlier age, and heart failure progresses at a faster rate than in any other ethnicity, he says.

In time, better inclusion of diverse ethnic groups in research studies may dovetail with Schwartz's vision of a genetic understanding that obliterates outdated notions of race.

"In the future, we won't have to worry about these issues, and we will drop the necessity of looking at blacks and nonblacks," Yancy says. "When we come up with a statement about therapy, it can be applicable to a broad number of people."

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