Diversity in clinical trials helps advance new medications, therapies

A female physician, holding a medical electronic tablet, is sitting in a clinical trials office, with additional patients in the background. The doctor is talking with a Black father and son, who sit to the right of her. The father is wearing a dress shirt while the boy, who is in his middle-teenage years, is wearing a plaid shirt.

Those who have gone before often make the world a better place. Nothing could be truer of people who have participated in clinical trials, celebrated on Monday, May 20, International Clinical Trials Day.

May 14, 2024Penn State College of Medicine News

Clinical trials of new medical procedures and treatments are critical to advancements in the care of patients. Sometimes, those trials save lives.

Diverse populations are often underrepresented in clinical trials. For example, Blacks in America constitute about 13% of the population but only 5% of participants in clinical trials. Hispanic and Latinos make up roughly 19% of the population but just 1% of trial participants.

Health equity, trial results at stake

“That lack of participation not only can affect the health of members of those diverse communities,” said Lynette Chappell-Williams, Penn State Health vice president and chief diversity officer, “but also decreases our knowledge of the overall safety and efficacy of potential medicines, treatments, vaccines and other medical advances because we don’t have the widest possible participation in trials.”

Race, ethnicity, age and sex can affect how different people and groups respond to the same medicine or vaccine. “This difference is why diversity among participants in clinical trials is so important,” Chappell-Williams said.

To expand potential participation in clinical trials, Penn State College of Medicine uses StudyFinder, Penn State’s clinical research database. The tool makes it easier for patients and community members to find investigational studies about their specific medical history and interests. Healthy volunteers are also needed for clinical trials.

International Clinical Trials Day honors the invaluable contributions of clinical trial participants. On May 20, 1747, Scottish physician James Lind began what is believed to be the first randomized clinical trial, studying the potential effects of different treatments for scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency.

All clinical trials and studies involving human beings are reviewed to ensure that subjects are treated safely, fairly, and confidentially. The trials can benefit participants as well as the investigators, sponsors and the overall medical field.

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