According to UnidosUS, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, less than 1 percent of Latinos participate in NIH-funded health research.
Without clinical trials, “we’ll never push forward,” says Gigi Lozano, Ph.D, a professor and chair of the department of genetics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Dr. Lozano spends every day in a science lab conducting tumor studies on mice. She’s confident these studies and other medical research will lead to breakthroughs in cancer.
The value in diversity
Clinical trials need ethnically diverse participants so scientists and doctors can develop a greater understanding of how diseases like cancer impact different people of different backgrounds.
“It’s critical people of all backgrounds participate in these trials because what works for one, won’t work for another,” says Dr. Lozano, a longstanding member of the Stand Up to Cancer Scientific Advisory Committee, helping guide the non-profit’s science portfolio and reviewing their research grants.
The impact of genetics
Dr. Lozano knows genetics play a significant role in whether or not cancer cells develop.
“Culture and environment are two big factors that impact how tumors develop and how they grow,” she says, noting some families have an inherited predisposition to a particular disease.
“In the Mexican American population, they have some genetic predisposition … there’s a propensity for diabetes and also a propensity for liver cancer and we don’t understand that,” she says.
Hispanic participation in clinical trials can help researchers figure out how to track, treat and ultimately prevent these illnesses.
“[If] we can identify the drivers of the disease,” Dr. Lozano says, “then we can understand [how] to undermine their activities [in order] to kill the tumor cell.”
She says many clinical trials are now based on understanding the genetics of a tumor, and picking drugs that fit those genetics and then seeing what changes happen.
Lack of awareness and hesitation to get involved may be barriers to Latino participation in clinical trials. Language can play a role too, since most clinical trials are in English.
Still Dr. Lozano encourages Hispanics to participate in clinical trials for themselves and for the next generation.
“It’s going to help your people. It’s going help others in your situation,” she says. “It might be your neighbor or a child in your community.”