Importance of Diversity in Clinical Research

The main phases of a clinical research study include: 1) identification and recruitment of study participants, 2) data collection and monitoring, 3) analysis of study results, and 4) distribution of study findings. ADAPTABLE team members are currently focused on the first two phases. In this article, we explore why it is important that people of different ages, races, ethnic groups, and genders are included in clinical trials.

How Does Who you are Impact Your Risk for Disease?

Sex, age, race, and ethnicity all play an important role in how different diseases, medicines, and treatments affect people. For example, the American Heart Association (AHA) states that the prevalence of high blood pressure in African-Americans is the highest in the world. African-Americans are disproportionately affected by obesity and more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that for American Indians/Alaska Natives and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer. Heart disease affects women as much as men, but symptoms and the warning signs for women aren’t the same as in men.

Despite what is known about how certain groups of people may respond differently to disease; traditionally, the majority of cardiovascular clinical research study participants are white men. Increasing diversity in clinical research studies is a priority for the Food and Drug Administration and the ADAPTABLE team in making sure results provide evidence that is relevant and helpful to a wide range of people. Diversity in clinical research studies helps ensure that the results will have an impact on the people the study is intended to help.

How Can Researchers Work to Improve Diversity in Clinical Research?

So how do researchers work to ensure representation from a range of participants in clinical research studies? The short answer is education, trust, partnership, and access.

Providing Education: Too often people who choose not to participate in trials say that they lack information. Providing educational resources about clinical research—what it is, why it is important, and how to participate—is a good first step to filling this information gap and increasing participation of underrepresented groups. To be effective these resources must be written in plain language, culturally appropriate, and available in local languages.

Establishing and Building Trust in Communities: Lack of trust in clinical research by minority groups continues as a reason individuals decline participation in trials. PCORnet, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, is leading a shift in its approach to clinical research from the traditional sense of work that is done to the community to work that is done with the community. PCORnet has hosted events focused on fostering trust in clinical research and provides patients, caregivers, and others opportunities to partner with researchers to improve the clinical research process.

Involving patients as partners: By sharing their experiences on what it’s like to live with a disease, thoughts on treatments, and what research topics are most important, patients can make a significant impact on all aspects of clinical research, from the design of the study to the dissemination or sharing of the results.  In ADAPTABLE, a diverse group of patient partners called the Adaptors are integral team members who are passionate about representing and reflecting the best interests, concerns, and welfare of potential, current, and future clinical research participants.

ADAPTABLE team members frequently participate in community health fair events to provide information about clinical research, the ADAPTABLE study, and heart-health awareness. These events provide opportunities to engage with people, to make personal connections, and build trust with community members.

Jacqueline at a local health event talking about ADAPTABLE and heart health.

As a woman of color and a heart disease patient, Adaptor Jacqueline Alikhaani, is passionate about using her personal health experiences to not only heighten awareness of patient-centered research, but to enhance diversity in clinical trials. “One of the biggest advantages we have with ADAPTABLE is the diversity of the Adaptors team. We have women, men, and people from different races, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We are bringing a wealth of experiences to help shape the design and direction of the study,” says Jacqueline. You can learn more about Jacqueline and how she serves as an architect of change in spreading the word about the role of patients in research and increasing minority participation in clinical research.

 Providing access to research: When designing a clinical trial, researchers plan to have study sites spread across the country and located in racially diverse communities to increase participation from everyone. ADAPTABLE enrolls participants from large health systems that are part of PCORnet’s Clinical Data Research Networks.

Want to learn more?

 If you are looking for general information about clinical research or resources about diversity in clinical research, check out the following resources:

Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation

Minorities in Clinical Trials Fact Sheet

Engagement in Research