All Are Created Equal in Research

August 23, 2013 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

mlkihaveadreamgogoWe’re expecting a huge crowd here this weekend as throngs descend upon the nation’s capital in honor of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. One can only wonder where our nation would be in terms of human equality if not for the great leadership of Dr. King. Who knew on the early morning of Aug. 28, 1963, that this speech would be repeated over and over as one of the greatest speeches in the annals of history? Although it occurred before I was born, I can only imagine the excitement that came over the crowd as he concluded with “Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I mention the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech to point out the importance of racial inclusion in grant programs. This was recently highlighted in a blog post by Dr. Sally Rockey, deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, in her “Rock Talk” blog. Rockey noted that including women, different racial and ethnic groups, and children in clinical research is critical to understand who is affected by a given disease or condition and to develop the appropriate treatments. NIH has a long-standing inclusion policy to assure that research participant demographics — sex/gender, race, ethnicity and representation of those under age 21 — appropriately address the scientific question at hand. The policy applies to all projects meeting the NIH definition for clinical research, not just clinical trials.

Rockey noted that there has been confusion about the distinction between race and ethnicity and how to report this information to the NIH. Researchers are asked to report to NIH on the planned and actual enrollment of clinical research participants by sex/gender, race, and ethnicity. NIH’s racial and ethnic standards are established by the Office of Management and Budget. When enrolling research participants, researchers should ask participants to self-identify both their ethnicity and their race, Rockey says in the blog post. The participant should also be given the option to select more than one racial category, or to decline providing their sex/gender, race and ethnicity.

Rockey added that NIH recently modified the layout of its reporting forms to clarify the need for collecting race and ethnicity information separately, as well as the ability for researchers to indicate how many individuals identifying with more than one racial category they plan to enroll.

Thanks to such racial inclusion policies, researchers have found that some diseases affect the African-American community more than other races and can better pinpoint treatments. If not for the efforts of Dr. King, these types of policies may have never seen the light of day. Times have certainly changed over the last 50 years. In fact, this week I saw a Cheerio’s commercial with a bi-racial couple and their mixed-race child. This would’ve been unheard of not so long ago.

All because one man had a dream…

How have racial equality policies affected your grant program? Let us know.

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