Diverse Populations, Inclusive Practices: Why Diversity in Clinical Research Matters

Ashley Toy
May 28th, 2019

Memorial Day isn’t the only holiday observed in May. Last week, we observed a couple of days that you may not have known about: Clinical Trials Day and World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

Established by the Association for Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), Clinical Trials Day was on May 20. It is intended as a well-deserved day of recognition and appreciation for the people who conduct clinical trials, and the contributions they make to improving public health.

World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development was on May 21. It is a day designated by the United Nations for appreciating the importance of cultural diversity and learning to coexist harmoniously.

Both of these days are important on their own, but together they also bring up an important conversation about diversity and inclusion in clinical research.

Why diversity is important in clinical research

Having diverse groups of participants on a study makes medical products safer and more effective for everyone, since it allows researchers to see how interventions affect individuals of different ages, races, ethnic groups and genders.

The National Institutes of Health have established requirements for all federally funded clinical research to include women and minorities, however minority populations are still underrepresented in trial participants. Recruiting individuals to clinical trials is difficult regardless of the population, but additional barriers often exist that make it harder for minorities to participate in clinical trials, whether they be economic, linguistic, cultural, religious or geographic.

Recently, the National Cancer Institute laid out new requirements for NCI-Designated cancer centers to ensure inclusion in clinical research efforts. The Community Outreach and Engagement mandate says that cancer centers must report on the work they are doing to benefit their catchment area, or the group of patients the cancer center serves. A cancer center defines its own catchment area, but it is usually reflective of the demographics of the geographic location and patient population they serve.

The Community Outreach and Engagement portion of the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) includes seven requirements: defining the catchment area, performing research to address the needs of the catchment area, population engagement in the catchment area, addressing disparities in the catchment area, accruing participants to trials to represent the demographics of the catchment area, translating research into policy implementation, and extending the reach of research and policy within and beyond the catchment area.

Community Outreach and Engagement is designed to help alleviate the increased burden of cancer on underserved populations by making it easier for them to access care and clinical trials. 

Overall, requirements from governing bodies such as the NCI and NIH are having an impact on increasing inclusion in clinical trials, but research centers need to take initiative to ensure their research participant population is reflective of the diverse world in which we live today.