In the complex tapestry of life, sometimes the most unexpected threads lead to the right solution for a longstanding problem. Dr. Carika Weldon’s life journey is a testament to this notion, as her creation of CariGenetics is poised to change the landscape of genetic research and healthcare.
Dr. Carika Weldon’s academic journey, from a young Bermudian student to a prominent biochemist, is a remarkable testament to her resilience and determination. As a student, she excelled in mathematics, her natural forte. However, her fascination with science and genetics soon led her down a different path.
Her innate inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge became apparent in high school when she frequently challenged her biology teacher with questions that extended beyond the textbooks. Driven by a relentless curiosity to understand the ‘why’ behind biological phenomena, she embarked on a career in the life sciences.
Dr. Weldon’s academic journey took her to the United Kingdom for her undergraduate studies, where she initially aspired to become a pediatrician, driven by a desire to make a meaningful impact on the lives of children and their families. Despite facing setbacks, including rejections from medical schools, her tenacity and unwavering commitment to understanding the ‘why’ of life’s complexities eventually led her to her true calling—genetics. It almost felt poetic as her PhD supervisor, Professor Ian Eperon, was the former PhD student of Professor Frederick Sanger, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize for inventing how to do genetic sequencing.
While she was in Leicester, after completing her Ph.D. and becoming a lecturer, she joined an organization that involved scientists going to schools to talk to young people, and this experience led her to wonder if there was a similar initiative in Bermuda. She discovered that there was something similar in Bermuda, but it was not well-developed.
While watching a documentary on the history of genetics, she learned about the Bermuda Principles, a crucial agreement that took place during the Human Genome Project. This agreement reached in Bermuda, stated that the data from the project would be freely accessible to everyone, with no one holding exclusive ownership or patents. Carika found it astonishing that, as a Bermudian, she had never heard about this significant event, and she decided to create the Bermuda Principles Foundation to raise awareness of the Bermuda Principles and promote science as a career in Bermuda.
Under the Bermuda Principles Foundation’s umbrella, she incorporated the #ScienceWithScientists school tour she had initially wanted to organize. Additionally, the foundation held an annual conference from 2017-2020 to commemorate the importance of the Bermuda Principles and their impact on medical research.
Dr. Weldon’s journey took an unexpected turn when she received a call from the government of Bermuda to come back home and expand COVID testing by setting up the first government COVID testing lab. Despite the health risk consideration, she agreed to come back to Bermuda to help with the pandemic response, as there was no Bermudian RNA scientist with her level of expertise.
She worked with Roche, a global biotech company with finance offices in Bermuda, to secure the necessary machines and reagents for COVID testing before returning to Bermuda. She initially thought she would only be there for a few months, but her role expanded when she was appointed the official Science Advisor to the Premier of Bermuda for COVID-19.
One of her achievements was training over 40 young Bermudians in PCR testing, providing them with meaningful jobs in their field. Being the Science Advisor meant explaining the latest information on the virus to the public, which made her the face of the pandemic response in Bermuda. She also took on the task of explaining the RNA vaccine to the public as an RNA scientist, which made her the face of the vaccine campaign in Bermuda, too. Ultimately, her work also saved the insurance industry in Bermuda $170 million by providing free COVID testing.
From seeing the hesitation to the COVID-19 vaccine amongst those of African descent in Bermuda and beyond, Dr. Weldon’s commitment to healthcare equity and the need to address the lack of genetic diversity in research intensified to reach new heights with the creation of CariGenetics. CariGenetics began as a concept in 2019 but evolved into a business in the fall of 2022.
The main problem that CariGenetics aims to address is the lack of diverse genomic data, particularly focusing on the Caribbean region. The current challenges and implications of this lack of diversity are significant. Carika points out that much of the medication and medical research is based on European DNA data, despite Europeans or those of European descent making up only about 15% of the world’s population. This means that medicine is not effectively designed for the other 85% of the world’s population. Furthermore, clinical trials also are not very diverse.
The Caribbean, due to its complex history involving slavery, colonialism, and indentured servitude, is a genetic melting pot with a diverse population. This diversity makes it an excellent place to study genetic diversity. CariGenetics also has a global impact because the Caribbean is genetically linked to various regions, including Africa, Europe, Central America, South America, India, and Asia. This interconnectedness means that understanding Caribbean genetics can provide insights into genetic diversity on a global scale.
Additionally, the fact that the Caribbean consists of island nations is advantageous for genetic research. In island populations, isolated geographic groups with limited intermixing can lead to the amplification of certain genetic mutations that cause diseases. Therefore, it’s easier to identify the genetic underlying causes of diseases in island nations like those in the Caribbean.
In a world where genomic data often fails to represent most of the global population, Dr. Weldon’s story is a beacon of hope. Her journey exemplifies the significance of diversity and inclusivity in healthcare and genetics, urging us all to strive for a future where everyone, regardless of their genetic background, can access the full benefits of medical research and treatment. Dr. Carika Weldon’s story is not only a source of inspiration but a catalyst for change, guiding us toward a future of health equity and inclusivity. To learn more, visit carigenetics.com
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