Keolu Fox

Genome Scientist & Data Justice Advocate

Keolu Fox uses science to advance justice for Indigenous communities

The son of a Native Hawaiian mother and the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Keolu Fox’s family history guides his practice as a genome scientist and advocate for technologies that empower Indigenous communities.

He is the first Native Hawaiian to receive a doctorate in genome sciences, and is an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, affiliated with the Department of Anthropology, the Global Health Program, the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute, the Climate Action Lab, the Design Lab, and the Indigenous Futures Institute.

His work focuses on the connection between raw data as a resource and the emerging value of genomic health data from Indigenous communities. He has experience designing and engineering genome sequencing and editing technologies, and a decade of grassroots experience working with Indigenous partners to advance precision medicine.

As an Emerson Collective Fellow, Keolu will build a library for Indigenous health data in partnership with Indigenous communities. He will pilot a platform that will enable collecting and protecting Indigenous health data using Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) principles, which provides a framework for allowing Indigenous communities themselves to manage and benefit from their own data. Ultimately, he hopes to create a replicable standard for Indigenous data sovereignty.

“A legacy of unethical scientific practice has – understandably – fostered mistrust of outside experts among Indigenous communities,” Fox says. “The goal of our work is to ensure that Indigenous communities have a say in what happens to their data and how it's used.”