Morehouse School of Medicine Wants Increased Diversity in Clinical Trials

MSM doctors explain that when Black and Brown people are not included in medical trials,
it causes a huge disparity in research.

By Audrey Washington
WSB-TV | July 27, 2022

Dr. Priscilla Pemu
Dr. Priscilla Pemu

ATLANTA — There’s a new effort to try to get more diversity in medical research and clinical trials. Morehouse School of Medicine is part of a new $10 million, Pharma-sponsored initiative called Equitable Breakthroughs in Medicine Development.

MSM doctors explain that some minorities are simply never asked to participate in clinical trials, or some groups may be reluctant, especially when they think about the Tuskegee experiment. But when Black and Brown people are not included in trials, it causes a huge disparity in research.

When Melissa Waller’s health issued didn’t go away after she recovered from COVID-19, she knew something was wrong. “My neurologist actually recommended the research study to me,” Waller said. Waller is a part of the small percentage of Black people involved in a clinical trial, which is a statistic that Morehouse School of Medicine wants to change.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, out of the more than 32,000 people who participated in drug trials in 2020, 75% were White, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, and just 6% were Asian.

Dr. Priscilla Pemu, Morehouse School of Medicine Associate Dean for Clinical Research, Director of the Clinical Research Center, and Vice Chair and Professor of Research in the Department of Medicine, said the goal of the initiative is to bring diversity to clinical trials.

“Bring in people who look like us to participate in studies,” Pemu said. “It can be vaccine trials. It can be trials for diabetes. Whatever kind of health issue.”

The coronavirus revealed lesser-known diversity issues. For example, the pulse oximeter – a tool that clips onto the finger and tracks oxygen levels in patients – can be inaccurate when measuring oxygen levels in patients with darker skin tones. “It works based on the refraction of light and color impacts refraction of light,” Pemu explained.

Next, MSM and Equitable Breakthroughs will form trials in minority communities, Pemu said. Waller called the initiative a big step forward for minority health. “[It’s] inclusive and equitable, and can tell a true story about who we are and how various medications impact us,” Waller said.

For more information about clinical trials at Morehouse School of Medicine, click here.