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Faculty & Staff Honors

Maryland Researchers Awarded Seed Grant to Study How to Include More African-Americans in Research Studies

A Research and Innovation Seed Award has been granted to Dr. Stephen Thomas of the University of Maryland College Park and Dr. C. Daniel Mullins of the University of Maryland Baltimore, that could give researchers a better understanding of the causes and how to treat conditions disproportionately impacting African-Americans.

Dr. Thomas is director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity and a professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s health services administration department, and Dr. Mullins is a professor in the pharmaceutical health services research department (PHSR) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

The study, “Assessing Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Willingness of African Americans in West Baltimore and Southern Prince George’s County to Participate in Genomics Research,” will be conducted in the trusted settings of black barbershops, beauty salons and churches in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Previous research suggests that sufficient numbers of African-Americans do not respond to traditional, passive approaches to recruitment for health studies and genomic research. This inequity can be partly blamed on mistrust of health professionals in the African-American community tied to historical inequality and mistreatment, dating back to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

Compared to non-Hispanic Whites, African-Americans adults are 40 percent more likely to be obese or die of stroke and breast cancer. They are twice as likely to die of cervical cancer or prostate cancer.

Genomics-based medicine holds great promise for the health of Americans, but disparities such as these are likely to increase if African-American populations are left out of national clinical studies. “New and innovative approaches must be proposed and explored,” the study said.

The $150,000 in funding will be used to conduct 100 Family Health Histories (FHH) and analyze the data to learn more about how willing people are to participate in clinical trials or provide biological specimens, including DNA, to researchers. “The FHH has been shown to be an effective health promotion intervention and to be highly predictive of mortality and morbidity for the participant,” the study said.

After completing the research, the team hopes it can use the data to devise strategies to address research disparities with African-American populations and tailor recruitment efforts to minority groups.

Each seed grant is awarded to teams that include at least one researcher from University of Maryland campuses in College Park and Baltimore. The program supports basic science research crossing disciplinary boundaries, with potential for future health care improvements and technologies.