AACR study: Healthcare research is focused on white people

A new study has laid bare the reality that American doctors do not know how to properly treat minorities because they are underrepresented in clinical trials. 

The report from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) said that 83 percent of participants in clinical trials are white, which means that the effects of new treatments on minorities are not being documented.

And the problem is worsening: the number of black and Hispanic participants has decreased during the last two decades, the report said.

Reasons for this gap include language barriers and the fact that minorities tend to be more distrustful of healthcare providers.

Researchers are warning that minorities could be more heavily impacted by fatal diseases if they are not more widely included in clinical trials for drugs that treat them.

A new report from the American Association for Cancer Research has found that participants in clinical trials are usually overwhelmingly white. The study’s researchers concluded that this could skew a doctor’s understanding of a drug’s effectiveness (file photo)


Clinical trials are held so that researchers can evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs.

However, if these drugs are only tested on white people, the unknown effects of the drugs on minorities could hinder a doctor’s ability to effectively treat them.

The new study reveals that the problem is getting worse, as black and Hispanic people are less represented in trials than they were 20 years ago, but the problem is not new. 

One infamous example of the inequality reflected in American medical research is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which an experimental syphilis treatment was administered to nearly 400 black men in Alabama.

The men told they were being treated even though researchers did not know what the treatments they were administering to them would do to their bodies.

The unethical experiment is often pointed to as the reason minorities are still underrepresented in clinical trials today.

For the study AACR researchers looked at the ethnic profiles of 55,689 clinical trial participants from 2003 to 2016. They found that about six percent were black, about five percent were Asian and less than three percent were Hispanic.

These figures were compared with data from 1996 to 2002, and researchers concluded that the percent of black and Hispanic people included in trials has decreased since then.

The percentage of black participants has gone down about three percent and that of Hispanic people has decreased about half a percentage point.

As of 2011, black people accounted for about 12 percent of the US population, while Hispanic people made up almost 16 percent.

Additionally, the study found that patients aged 65 and older accounted for only 36 percent of patients in clinical trials, despite research showing that most cancer diagnoses occur among people in that age group.

And the issue is not specific to the American healthcare system. A 2016 report from the University of Bristol in the UK found that less than one-third of clinical trials include a sizable portion of minorities.

In Australia, about one-fifth of clinical trials during a period of time in 2015 excluded potential participants who had a low English proficiency, a study concluded.

One of the AACR study researchers, Dr Narjust Duma, said that these results should concern the medical community because they reveal that clinical trial results are not equally applicable.

‘Clinical trials are crucial in studying the effectiveness of new drugs and ultimately bringing them to the market to benefit patients,’ Dr Duma said.

‘Many clinical trials lack appropriate representation of certain patient populations. As a result, the findings of a clinical trial might not be generalizable to all patients,’ she added.

Dr Duma also mentioned suggestions that she thinks could lessen the ethnic participation gap in clinical trials.

She said that the involvement of Spanish interpreters in clinical trials could potentially make the experiments easier and more approachable for Hispanic people.

Additionally, she said health care providers need to be aware of the fact that many groups are underrepresented in trials and they need to encourage members of such groups to participate more often.

Lastly, Dr Duma said that cancer centers and satellite hospitals should partner to produce clinical trials. For this to work, patients would undergo treatments at their local hospitals, but their data would be sent to the major cancer center for analysis.

This could increase diversity among clinical trial patients, Dr Duma said.

And she pointed out that one of the limitations of the study, which was funded by the Mayo Clinic, is that participants’ race and ethnicity in the clinical trials the data came from were self-reported.

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