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Minority Physicians Help Improve Minorities' Participation In Clinical Trials

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

"The first step in addressing the underrepresentation of black Americans in research ... is to recruit more minority physicians into clinical research," Ken Getz -- chair of the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation and a senior research fellow at Tufts University School of Medicine -- and Doug Peddicord, executive director of the Association of Clinical Research Organizations, write in a Washington Post opinion piece.

According to Getz and Peddicord, while "[t]here is a desperate need to develop new medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect [blacks], and there is a growing body of evidence that minority and ethnic populations respond differently to certain medications," the "legacy" of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study "remains a touchstone of [blacks'] mistrust of the medical system" today (Getz/Peddicord, Washington Post, 9/30).

The government-backed Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which ended in 1972, tracked the effects of untreated syphilis in mostly poor and uneducated black men over 40 years. The study enlisted 600 black men, 399 of whom had syphilis, in exchange for free medical exams, meals and burial insurance. The men were denied treatment and were not informed they had the infection. By the time the study was exposed to the public, 28 participants had died from the infection, 100 others had died of related complications, and at least 40 spouses and 19 children also were infected (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 3/18).

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Getz and Peddicord write that "minority patients are underrepresented in clinical trials" mainly because "too few minority physicians participate in clinical research." Less than one-tenth of U.S. clinical trial participants are black, U.S. residents, according to Getz and Peddicord.

There is "considerable evidence that a physician's race is an important factor in influencing patient participation in a clinical trial," Getz and Peddicord write. They continue, "Government agencies and research companies must proactively reach out to physicians practicing in minority communities and reduce the barriers of time, money and training that make it difficult to incorporate clinical research into the general practice of medicine."

Getz and Peddicord write, "It's important, too, to reach out directly to [blacks] and to demonstrate that participation in high-quality, ethical clinical research is in the best interest of their community," adding, "Without clinical study participants of all races and ethnicities, promising new drugs cannot be fully evaluated for safety and effectiveness." They continue, "It is time for the clinical research community and the public together to move beyond the inexcusable history of Tuskegee" (Washington Post, 9/30).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.