The 2022 CCTS Bioethics Forum, hosted by Tuskegee University and moderated by Stephen Sodeke, PHD, MA and Paulette Patterson Dilworth, PhD, took place on Friday, February 18th. This event, “Translational Science and the March to Health Equity,” featured an incredible panel of experts, representing an array of backgrounds and experiences:  Rev. Derrol Dawkins, MD, Lucenia W. Dunn, PhD, Bruce Korf, MD, PhD, Lucio Miele, MD, PhD, Rev. Deonna D. Neal, PhD, Victoria L. Seewaldt, MD, and Clayton Yates, MD.

The Forum invited discussion on the topic of systemic racism, with a goal of expressing the most effective measures to combat or mitigate the issues of health inequity in translational research. Researchers shared efforts underway to make lasting change, and community leaders provided perspectives that set the stage for deeper discussion. This year’s Forum was the second to happen in a virtual format, enabling over 150 participants to join from 13+ states and two countries. The audience represented a wide range of fields, including healthcare, community-based and non-profit organizations, research centers, departments of health, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and more.

Dr. Stephen Sodeke, Resident Bioethicist at the Center for Biomedical Research and Professor of Bioethics in at Tuskegee University, opened the event with reflection on the following questions as they relate to racism and health disparities: What needs to remain the same? What must change? Where do we go from here? The panelists were tasked with getting the conversation started before discussion launched within the gallery of participants.

Drs. Yates and Korf provided examples of changing research protocols addressing the lack of representation of diverse populations in research, each utilizing precision medicine to combat health inequities. Drs. Miele and Seewaldt continued the thread, sharing how their current research addresses the overt health disparities seen in black and African American communities, specifically related to breast cancer and diabetes. Drs. Dunn, Dawkins, and Neal shared community perspectives and experiences that conveyed the inequities in health coverage, access to care, and quality of care.

The conversation that followed presentations was robust, often highlighting the critical importance of trust and relationship building that must go beyond just a clinical trial or research study. Listening to communities, believing their stories and staying connected to their true experiences is where real change can take root. Many of these critical points made during the discussion are aligned with the Center for Health Justice’s Principles of Trustworthiness. One participant, Monikee B., shared one takeaway from the discussion: “The Forum highlighted the fact that contemporary frameworks of diversity, equity and inclusion need to be included to guide research with diverse and vulnerable populations.”

This event allowed participants and panelists to discuss unabashedly sensitive topics around race, which can be hard to approach in the workplace. Lindsey S. says, “This forum allowed me to feel more comfortable talking about health equity and race-based injustices in and out of my research field, and this is absolutely invaluable.”

The questions posed and information shared throughout this event created impactful conversations that we hope will extend into the work of each of those in attendance. The CCTS is grateful to Tuskegee University, the Forum planning committee, moderators, panelists, and audience members for gathering and enabling another incredible CCTS Bioethics Forum. If you missed the Forum, you can watch it here.

Written by Ally Wallen | February 25, 2022