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Spotlight on Clinical Research: Minority Health

April is National Minority Health Month
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It is an unfortunate fact that minorities suffer disproportionately from such diseases as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and HIV.  For example, African Americans are at least 50 percent more like to die of heart disease or stroke prematurely than their white counterparts and African American women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer. Hispanics have higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Due to health disparities, where one population group has worse health outcomes than another group, our economy loses over $300 billion per year in direct and indirect costs, such missed work days.

Research studies are the fastest and safest way to determine whether or not a new medication or treatment works so that it can be used by a large number of patients. Yale scientists conduct many of these types of studies in order to find the best way of treating diseases. Patients today rely on medical treatments that were developed thanks to the willingness of past volunteers who participated in clinical trials.

Even though most people understand that without clinical trials it would be impossible to develop new treatments, it’s sometimes difficult to find volunteers willing to participate in them. Only five percent of adults with cancer participate in a clinical study, and minorities are especially under-represented in new cancer treatment and other studies. If the people who participate in clinical research do not reflect the diverse nature of the population, then it won’t be clear whether new treatments actually work in the real world.

"It’s important for minorities to be represented in clinical research because the results of that research only pertain to the types of people who are in the studies,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, deputy director of health equity research and workforce development for the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation." "People of color are potentially missing out on being at the table in discovery that’s relevant to them and their communities when they aren’t part of clinical research."

This issue is of such pressing concern that in 1993, Congress mandated the inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities and women in clinical research. "There are policy solutions and there has been a policy intervention, so clearly policy is necessary, but not sufficient," said Dr. Nunez-Smith, who will be heading the Equity Research and Innovation Center, to be launched at Yale in the coming months.

In order to develop new medical treatments that will benefit all patients, it’s vital that the diversity of our population – with regard to race, age, or gender – is also reflected in those who participate in research studies. If you’re thinking about joining a research study, there are many safeguards in place to protect you and provide you with information you need to make an informed decision about whether to participate. Talk to your doctor about which studies might be appropriate for you or explore this website to find out more.