Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Aurora Studying Racial Inequities in Clinical Trials

Researchers will look at racial makeup of COVID-19 trials.

Veronica Fitzpatrick, center, a research scientist with Advocate Aurora Research Institute, is heading a project to determine why some are underrepresented in clinical trials. Photo provided by Veronica Fitzpatrick/NNS.

Veronica Fitzpatrick, center, a research scientist with Advocate Aurora Research Institute, is heading a project to determine why some are underrepresented in clinical trials. Photo provided by Veronica Fitzpatrick/NNS.

The history of medical research is rife with instances of specific groups of people underrepresented in clinical trials, people who have then had adverse effects to novel medications and devices.

That’s the premise underlying an effort by the Advocate Aurora Research Institute to research racial inequities in clinical trials.

Veronica Fitzpatrick, a research scientist with the Advocate Aurora Research Institute, is heading the project that started at the beginning of 2022 and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Fitzpatrick received $119,910 through Advocate Aurora Health Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund for the project, according to the Institute’s 2021 annual report. The project will analyze the racial makeup of COVID-19 clinical trials conducted at Advocate Aurora study sites.

Clinical trials for new therapies and medical devices have historically failed to include people of color, women, children and seniors, according to the report.

“There may be an example of something working for, say, men that was assumed to work for women, and it didn’t,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the disparities in health care so that’s’ what we’re focusing on,” she said.

The Institute works to improve the health and quality of life of patients by translating scientific research into better care, prevention strategies and treatments.

“We do a lot of work in the health disparities area,” said Denise Angst, the vice president of academic research and strategic partnerships at Advocate Aurora. “Our patients and communities are our driving force.”

Eliminating these disparities has also been a focus on the federal level.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s page on clinical trials explains that “participants in clinical trials should represent the patients who will use the medical products. This is often not the case—people from racial and ethnic minority and other diverse groups are underrepresented in clinical research. This is a concern because people of different ages, races and ethnicities may react differently to medical products.”

Fitzpatrick wants to know why some people are underrepresented.

She and her team recently started working with local clinics to find that out through interviews and surveys. The project is compensating people for their time.

They are looking for people of color who are 18 or older and are interesting in helping the research team learn about barriers, hesitancy and potential solutions to participating in clinical trials.

“We are finding that people simply don’t know enough about clinical trials,” Fitzpatrick said. “Many people’s first time even hearing some of these medical terms were when the pandemic hit.”

At clinical trials at Aurora Health Care, volunteers help test treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease and many other serious conditions.

Fitzpatrick said the goal of her research is to inform medical professionals so that they can better serve their patients and communities.

Once the research is complete, it’ll be shared internally and through the medical field to inform medical professionals and their work.

“We hope we can shine a light on what we’re already doing and what we can do better,” Fitzpatrick said.

For more information

If you’d like to participate in the project, you can text or call 312-956-7067 or click here.

Research project seeks to find out why people of color are underrepresented in clinical trials was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

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