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Different colored test tubes with double stranded DNA inside

People from minority ethnic backgrounds are set to lose out on medical benefits of genetics research due to an overwhelming bias towards studying white European populations, a leading scientist has warned.

Prof David Curtis, a geneticist and psychiatrist at University College London, has called on funding bodies to do more to address the emerging issue that genetic tests developed using samples from white Europeans can give meaningless results when applied to other ethnic groups. The problem could intensify as the clinical applications of genetics expand over the next decade.

In a letter to the leaders of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust in December, Curtis said the current situation was so acute that “UK medical science stands at risk of being accused of being institutionally racist”.

Responding to Curtis’s letter in the same month, John Savill, then chief executive of the MRC, suggested adequate steps were already being taken, writing: “I do not think it is helpful to cast concerns over experimental design as ‘equalities issues’.”

Curtis shared the correspondence with the Guardian, saying the response from...