More Needs to Be Done to Eliminate Racial Disparities in Biomedical Research | Connecticut Public Radio

More Needs to Be Done to Eliminate Racial Disparities in Biomedical Research

Jan 13, 2016

Federal efforts to make U.S. health research more diverse aren't going far enough, according to a new study examining nearly 30 years of data from the National Institutes of Health. 

Thirty years of NIH info, and over that time, one thing has emerged very clearly: science is still very white.

"There has been a consistent funding gap in terms of white versus non-white researchers," said Sam Oh, an epidemiologist and research associate at the University of California, San Francisco. Last month, Oh and several other researchers published on NIH grant-award data from the mid 1980s up to 2013. They found, consistently, white scientists' grant applications are funded at higher rates than minority applications.

(Note: In the above chart, URMs include Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, African American, American Indian, and Asian. "Other races" includes Whites and more than-one-race.)

There's also the issue of who gets studied by biomedical research.

While scientists getting NIH grants tend to skew white, Oh said their study subjects do, too. He said one way to close that disparity is to allocate more NIH grant money for study recruitment costs.

Oh said that's important so that "investigators and researchers can reach out to communities who have been traditionally marginalized or underrepresented," he said. "People from those communities would feel more comfortable speaking with research staff who look like themselves, or speak their language, or are more tuned into their needs."

Last January, President Obama announced his Precision Medicine Initiative, which aims to recruit a national research cohort of one million or more U.S. participants.

In the meantime, Oh said America's minority population will only continue to increase -- intensifying the importance of quickly erasing research disparities and ensuring every American is benefiting from biomedical advances.