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Health Team

Blacks under-represented in clinical trials

Posted September 24, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2010 6:37 p.m. EDT

Clinical trials are common for new drugs that claim to treat chronic or even life-threatening illnesses. The success of those drugs depends on a diverse group of participants, but blacks are often under-represented.

Trial centers are trying to remove the barriers to increase their numbers.

Thirteen years ago, while in Japan, Merice Brown developed Hepatitis C. Different treatments worked for awhile, only for the symptoms to return. Then he learned about a clinical trial at Duke for a drug combination which included a new drug, Telaprevir, which worked.

“I've been cured of Hepatitis C,” Brown said.

Even without a cure, Duke Neurologist Dr. Mark Stacy says there are many benefits to enrolling in a trial, such as free care.

“I think you learn more about your medical condition. You have a chance to talk to physicians and other health care professionals more frequently,” he said.

Brown said he also saw it as a public service.

“The medical field could benefit from the trial that I was in to help other people in the future,” he said.

Researchers would like to recruit more black people, like Merice Brown, but that population is under-represented for various reasons, including lack of information, lack of access to care, transportation and, some might say, a historic distrust of medical institutions.

“Anytime we have populations that are not well represented, it is the health professionals’ responsibility to build a trust with that community,” Stacy said.

A drug's success depends on knowing how different populations respond to it. Brown was fortunate that he responded well to his Hepatitis C therapy, which may help speed up it's availability to everyone.

The AWARE for All Conference on Saturday at North Carolina Central University is one attempt to reach out to the black community with more information about clinical trials.