Clinical Trials Need African-American Support

Article excerpt

Among many African-Americans, the idea of clinical drug trials invokes the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which poor black men participated in a research study for 40 years without ever being told they had syphilis. This atrocity led to additional infections and untreated cases of syphilis, and many of the participants died.

That study, and the distrust it helped create, had a significant impact on the participation of African-Americans in clinical drug trials in the 40 years since its end.

The Tuskegee study led to the creation of a federal office to protect research participants, as well as additional federal laws specifically addressing the clinical trials that are designed to determine the safety and effectiveness of new drugs. Yet misgivings toward clinical research and the medical community persist today, even as the need for more African-American participation in drug trials that address diseases that ravage our communities has never been greater.

With those attitudes in mind, I participated earlier this month in an event sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America that centered on a report outlining the benefits of clinical drug trials in Tennessee. It's part of a state- by-state effort known as Research in Your Backyard, and it helps put into perspective the little-known impact of such research in Memphis and across the state.

Of the 3,700 clinical trials conducted in our state since 1999, nearly one-third more than 1,000 took place in Memphis. Nearly two-thirds of those trials focused on six major diseases: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma, mental illness and stroke.

The effects of many of those chronic diseases on African- Americans are well-documented: We are nearly twice as likely as Caucasians to develop diabetes. We are at greater risk for major complications from diabetes, including kidney failure and amputations. One in four African-American women older than 55 years is diabetic.

Our heart disease statistics are even worse: African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease, and twice as likely to suffer a stroke. …