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Medical schools partner to tackle barriers to minority participation in cancer clinical trials

The University of Minnesota Medical School today announced the details of a $3.8 million grant by the National Institutes of Health's National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) for research focused on minority recruitment and retention in cancer clinical trials. Although much is known about cancer incidence rates in minority populations, little research exists to understand behavior and social environmentthe barriers and biases that limit participation and access to clinical trials. The Enhancing Minority Participation in Clinical Trials (EMPaCT) program aims to address these social issues.

This grant provides resources to explore the social issues that limit minority participation and access to cancer clinical trials. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, racial and ethnic minorities suffer more from cancer than the U.S. population as a whole, developing certain types of cancer more often with a greater chance of premature death due to late-stage detection.

Speaking to grant participants at an event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., John Ruffin, Ph.D., director of the NCMHD said, "While minorities make up one-third of the U.S. population, few participate in clinical trials for various reasons including cultural or religious factors, lack of awareness, and a historical mistrust of the medical system. This research will start to identify and break down these racial and ethnic communications barriers, help to rebuild the community's trust, increase the participation and retention of racial/ethnic minorities in clinical trials, and will serve as a model that could be implemented at other cancer centers and hospitals nationwide."

To reach numerous African American/Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and American Indian populations, the EMPaCT program has created a consortium of five U.S. regions with identified lead institutions in those regions. They include: John Hopkins University (east), University of Alabama at Birmingham (southeast), University of Minnesota (midwest), The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (south), and University of California, Davis (west).

"Increasing minority access to the best care that's already funded and available is a key goal of the EMPaCT research," said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., Jay Phillips Professor, chairman of the University of Minnesota's Department of Surgery, associate director of translational research for the Masonic Cancer Center, and principal investigator on this grant. "Our effort should provide insight to overcoming barriers and a history of mistrust in clinical research and clinical trial recruitment."

One element of the EMPaCT research is to establish a patient navigation model. These patient navigators would work with minority groups, providing assistance to patients considering a clinical trial and offering ongoing support and outreach to patients enrolled in a trial. A similar model was successfully implemented at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), increasing African American participation in clinical trials.

"We must find ways to increase minority participation in clinical trials," said Mona Fouad, M.D., M.P.H., professor and director of the Division of Preventive Medicine, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, and co-principal investigator on this grant. "Failure to do so misses the opportunity to provide effective, detailed and often improved care for all persons via clinical trials. Focusing on recruiting minorities into clinical trials also provides a novel mechanism to engage the part of our nation at the greatest medical risk, those on the fringe of the health-care safety net and for whom data is persistently limited and/or missing in the areas of chronic diseases and cancer."

Both Vickers and Fouad bring a wealth of experience and have a strong record of health disparities research, collaborating on projects for more than 15 years. Vickers served on the advisory board of the NIH and the Office of Minority Health and Research. He also was the former associate director of the UAB Minority Health and Research Center (MHRC) and principal investigator of their NCMHD-funded center of excellence. Fouad is well-known for her work on health disparities and recognized as a leader on minority recruitment and retention programs. She is the current principal investigator of the UAB's NCMHD-funded center of excellence and director of the MHRC.


Contact: Laura Stroup
University of Minnesota

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