Looking for Minorities in Clinical Trials

The medical community is making a renewed effort to reach out to minorities and women to take part in clinical trials. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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It's an issue the medical community has been grappling with for some time: How to get diverse populations involved in clinical trials. It helps answer a basic question a lot of people want to know when a doctor gives them a prescription.

"One of my patients asked me, Doc, how you know this works on me. I made up some answer that most physicians do right off the top of their head. But important to say that there are many times when we don't know how particular drugs are going to work on particular sub segments or a population. This is important."

Doctor Garth Graham is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some estimates show that nearly 90 percent of clinical trial participants are Caucasian males.

"By the year 2050, minority populations will as a block become the majority population across our country. So we're looking in terms of not only where we are in the present, but where we need to be in the future."

Doctor Armin Weinberg is director of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine. He says there are many reasons why minorities and women don't take part.

"Some have to do with patient barriers such as a lack of awareness, a lack of transportation, cost of participation, low literacy, cultural and language barriers. But other barriers are to do history of injustices to people who were either intentionally experimented on or excluded from studies."

Weinberg says some standards were developed in 2001, but he says they have not been implemented widely enough.

"Today we also face an equally challenging bias when those funding and conducting studies fail to acknowledge the scientific merit and the importance of including a diverse population in clinical trials."

The new initiatives will also target senior citizens. Nearly two-thirds of cancer patients are 65 and older, yet seniors make up less than one-third of those taking part in clinical trials for cancer treatments. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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