UConn Health Chosen for Duffy Status Health Equity Project

UConn Health has been selected among 24 health and hospital systems for the American Society of Hematology project to establish new blood reference ranges that better reflect diverse patient populations.

Tulips and flowering shrubs are in bloom at the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion on April 25, 2024.(Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) announces Dr. Victoria Forbes, assistant professor of Medicine and Dr. Michael Blechner, assistant professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UConn Health have been selected to participate in the Absolute Neutrophil Count (ANC) by Duffy Status Project. Dr. Jon Steinmetz, graduating hematology/oncology Fellow at UConn who will be joining faculty at Hartford Hospital will serve as lead on the project.

UConn Health was chosen to join this academic collaboration of 24 health and hospital systems across the United States which will address a critical health equity concern. The project is funded by the Doris Duke Foundation as part of its Racial Equity in Clinical Equations initiative.

Dr. Victoria Forbes Assistant Professor of Medicine

The Duffy-null phenotype is commonly found among people with African and Middle Eastern genetic ancestry, affecting approximately two of three people in the United States with this ancestral background. People with the Duffy-null phenotype may have a lower ANC, or white blood cell count, which is used to determine risk of infection. While those with Duffy-null Associated Neutrophil Count (DANC) are not at increased risk of infection, they are often labeled as having neutropenia, a low white blood cell count that can lead to unnecessary, expensive, painful, and invasive testing.

Dr. Michael Blechner, assistant professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Currently, ANC ranges considered healthy are primarily based on data from individuals of European and Asian descent and do not account for Duffy status. The exclusion of ANC reference ranges that include the phenotype can perpetuate systemic racism and lead to delayed or discontinued chemotherapy and medication, clinical trial exclusion, and unnecessary medical procedures.

"Too often, differences in scientific observations about a biological phenomenon are attributed to race, with potentially detrimental consequences to patients," said Sindy Escobar Alvarez, PhD, program director for medical research at the Doris Duke Foundation. "Testing for Duffy status recognizes that race is a poor predictor of low neutrophil counts that can lead to over diagnosis of neutropenia in Black patients and preclude Duffy-null individuals from participating in important clinical studies."

Dr. Jonathan Steinmetz, Fellow

The project will examine ANC of pediatric patients based on Duffy status along a range of age brackets, as well as adult patients aged 18 and older. Project sites will capture 200 de-identified samples from each age bracket to establish new reference ranges. Institutions will reconsider adult reference ranges specific to their organization. The results of this work will have broad implications across health care systems.

The ANC by Duffy Status Project is supported by the Doris Duke Foundation. To learn more about the project, visit hematology.org/duffy. To learn about ASH's broader diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, visit hematology.org/DEI. Learn more about how UConn Health supports equitable health, education, and economic opportunity at the Health Disparities Institute at UConn Health.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) might be of the point-in-time nature, and edited for clarity, style and length. Mirage.News does not take institutional positions or sides, and all views, positions, and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s).View in full here.