Minorities are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to medical research, and it may have a drastic impact on the health of Hispanics, Asians, African Americans and other minorities in the future.
As the population of the United States becomes more diverse there is a need for medical research to be inclusive of all races and ethincities; however, of the 10,000 clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1997, only about 150 have focused on a particular ethnic or minority population.
According to Julie Dang, director of the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training, based at UC Davis, that’s less than 2 percent of all clinical trials.
“Right now a lot of medicines are made for Caucasians, Dang, who headed up a recent study in the field, told The Modesto Bee. We need a diverse group of people to participate in order to do better cancer research and make therapies work for everybody.
Why are fewer minorities taking part in clinical trials?
Part of the issue is a lack of understanding on the part of researchers. According to the UC Davis study, medical terminology is a major turn-off for certain ethnic and racial groups–particularly Asians and Hispanics. Even though an individual may be interested in participating in a clinical trial, overly scientific forms can be a confusing deterrent. For many, it’s simply easier to not participate rather than feel as if they are stepping into an unclear process.
“Medical words are very hard for me, said 61-year-old Japanese immigrant Yukie Hirsch. “I have wanted to help for a long time about cancer because I have so much experience with cancer in Japan and the United States, but the problem is my English is poor. I could not understand what the letter was saying or what they wanted. So I gave up.
Dang’s research indicates it’s not that Hispanics and other groups are unwilling to participate in research; when approached in the correct manner, minorities are often very willing to give samples or be a part of clinical study.
The participation of minorities in clinical trials is becoming a necessity. As more and more research targets chronic health conditions represented among specific populations, a more diverse group of study participants is needed to develop targeted treatment options.
For example, Hispanic men have a 70 percent higher rate of stomach cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites, but if only a small portion of study participants in stomach cancer clinical trials are Hispanic, important treatment and disease data may remain undiscovered.
Each ethnicity has its own set of risk factors, and clinical trials must eventually be more representative of the population being treated.
Unfortunately, even when forms are created to appeal to the general public, other barriers stand in the way of Hispanics and other minorities when it comes to research. Travel is another major complication, especially for demographics more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Universities that do clinical trials tend to be located or centered in communities that are not representative of the minority population,” said professor Gregory Talavera. “When they do research, they tend to recruit individuals from their surroundings. Stanford is an example. Its right in the middle of Palo Alto. They tend to recruit people that are conveniently located. And the same thing happens in San Diego, where research is done in La Jolla.
Talavera indicated the solution is far more complicated than simply improving communication or even transportation, however. Some cultures, especially Hispanic, he said, are not culturally accepting of medical research. Not only is there a stigma of distrust regarding such things, but the concept of prevention is not something usually seen in first-generation immigrants.