Clinical trials are needed to develop effective prevention, diagnostic and treatment methods for cancer and other diseases. Participation in clinical trials by both sexes in a wide range of ethnicities is equally critical to verifying that therapies will work effectively among people of all backgrounds.

Nedra Lisovicz, left, Corteza Jones-Townsend, center, and Elise McLin are recruiting more minorities in an effort to get them to participate in cancer clinical trials. “We want to educate the African-American community and let them know clinical trials are available to them,” said Jones-Townsend.

However, only 3 percent of adults who are eligible actually enroll in cancer-related clinical trials, and minorities participate at even lower rates. UAB is working to reverse that.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Recruitment and Retention Shared Facility (RRSF) are partnering with the National Cancer Institute to sponsor the IMPaCT (Increasing Minority Participation in Clinical Trials) program. RRSF is a universitywide service center that enrolls and retains study participants for UAB researchers.

IMPaCT has two objectives: to increase the number of minority cancer patients in cancer clinical trials and to support minority cancer patients already participating.

“As a cancer patient taking treatment, making every appointment and following the doctor’s treatment plan is the best way to survive the disease. That includes clinical trials,” says Nedra Lisovicz, Ph.D., investigator with the IMPaCT program. “The purpose of the clinical trial is to find a treatment that’s better than the normal treatment already being used. If we don’t have all population groups participating, we can’t generalize very well the outcome of the procedure in all populations.”

Patients benefit
Corteza Jones-Townsend, the IMPaCT coordinator, says there are many benefits to patients participating in clinical trials. A patient’s condition and treatment are very carefully monitored, and these patients often are among the first to benefit from a new treatment. Patients also can derive comfort knowing they are contributing to key medical research and helping others with the same condition.

“We want to educate the African-American community and let them know clinical trials are available to them, and that we are here to help them navigate through their treatment in any way we can,” Jones-Townsend says.

IMPaCT also is reaching out to individual UAB clinics to let staff know that navigators are available to help their African-American patients, whether they are enrolled in a clinical trial or may be eligible in the future.

IMPaCT aids patients in many ways, including arranging transportation to and from treatment, helping locate child care and possibly helping them locate financial resources. Recently, IMPaCT navigators arranged for a patient to fly from Dothan to Birmingham for cancer treatment. A volunteer pilot from Mercy Flight donated his time and plane to fly the patient, worked with the family to secure a hotel room for the night and a taxi to transport the patient to UAB at 4 a.m. for surgery.

Finding resources
“Finding resources that support the patient is one of our key missions,” Lisovicz says. “We are here to support and educate. We want patients battling cancer and coming here for treatment to know UAB provides these services for them. We want patients to ask their physician if they’re eligible to participate in a clinical trial. If they are eligible, they should also ask to speak with the IMPaCT navigator.

UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Ed Partridge, M.D., and Mona Fouad, M.D., are the principal investigators on the project. Michelle Martin, Ph.D., is the lead investigator for IMPaCT and Elise McLin is the program’s navigator.

McLin has consistent contact with all IMPaCT patients, guiding them through the clinical trial process, helping them find community resources to meet their needs and solving problems that may make it difficult for them to keep their clinic appointments.

“Navigating the patients through the clinical trial process is rewarding,” McLin says. “You really become an ear for them, and it’s a good feeling to find ways to help them overcome barriers or just be available as someone to talk with.”

For more information on the IMPaCT program, call 1-866-843-8277.  For recruitment services, call 975-7903.