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Dr. Akinyemi Oni-Orisan: A Scientist Who Studies Clinical Pharmacy Care, Genomics, and the Importance of Racial Diversity

Akinyemi Oni-Orisan

If you look at Dr. Oni-Orisan’s University of California San Francisco biography, you’ll find that he and his colleagues study treatments for cardiovascular disease using information from electronic health records. His long-term goal is to improve drug treatments for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease by using precision medicine. Precision medicine, which is based largely on genomics, eventually will help doctors move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to prescribing medicine. Instead, they’ll be able to use information such as people’s ancestry and genetic make-up to prescribe medicines that will work best for each person.

Dr. Oni-Orisan recently used KP Research Bank data to determine whether polygenic risk scores could advance statin prescription practices to improve cardiovascular health for people from different ancestries. Using polygenic risk scores based on people with European ancestry, Dr. Oni-Orisan and his team applied the risk scores to information from KP Research Bank participants from various ancestries. They found that the risk scores did a very good job of showing that White individuals with low risk for coronary heart disease didn’t get much benefit from taking statins compared to White individuals with high risk for coronary heart disease.

On the other hand, the scores were not helpful in understanding how taking statins might or might not help people with non-European ancestries. Dr. Oni-Orisan’s results show the importance of creating new polygenic risk scores based on data from people of diverse backgrounds, so the scores eventually support the prevention of coronary heart disease in people from all backgrounds. Once polygenic risk scores become part of clinical care, their information will help doctors and patients discuss the benefits and risks of taking or not taking statins to prevent coronary heart disease.

Personal experience informs Dr. Oni-Orisan’s research

What you won’t find on Dr. Oni-Orisan’s UCSF website is that his personal and family history plays a critical role in his research passions and perspectives. His parents immigrated from Nigeria and worked hard to ensure their children’s success. Dr. Oni-Orisan and his brothers and sister grew up in a lower-income neighborhood in Ypsilanti, Michigan in a home that was like a learning center, full of books and encyclopedias. Dr. Oni-Orisan says that his earliest memories are of his mother reading to him and his father teaching him and his siblings math and science and coaching him and his brothers in soccer.

Dr. Oni-Orisan was an excellent student with strong mentors and solid relationships with fellow students in class and extracurricular activities. But his experience, like those of many other scholars who are Black, also included poor treatment by some faculty and students because of the color of his skin. These experiences and the continuing lack of equity, inclusion, and diversity in higher education and medical research influence Dr. Oni-Orisan’s professional activities. He works closely with colleagues, senior faculty, and students to advocate for a more equitable present and future. For details on this topic, specifically the importance of considering race as a part of medical research and care, read a New England Journal of Medicine commentary from Dr. Oni-Orisan and colleagues.

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