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Improving Diversity in Heart Disease Clinical Research: Study Examines Efficacy of Digital Tools

June 13, 2023 by Janet Essman Franz

A new study at the University of Vermont is exploring whether inviting Black people to help design digital recruitment approaches will better engage Black adults and increase participation in trials.

A new study at University of Vermont is exploring whether inviting Black people to help design digital recruitment approaches will increase participation of Black adults in clinical trials for cardiovascular disease treatments. (Shutterstock image)

Black adults in the U.S. experience a disproportionate burden of heart disease but are typically underrepresented in cardiovascular disease-related clinical trials, a problem that could compromise their health outcomes. Major barriers to recruitment and participation of Black adults include distrust of the research community and persistent structural racism in medical research processes and systems. A new study at the University of Vermont is exploring whether inviting Black people to help design digital recruitment approaches will better engage Black adults and increase participation in trials.

Clinical trials test the efficacy and safety of new medicines and interventions, but because effectiveness and safety may vary in different populations, the lack of diversity in clinical trial enrollment compromises the health care that can be delivered to those who are excluded. With low numbers of Black adults in heart disease trials, researchers can’t be certain that heart disease treatment discoveries also apply to Black adults.

This new project, known as Digital Advertisements for Inclusive Trial Accrual (DAITA), will be performed in collaboration with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. DAITA aims to address disparities in cardiovascular disease research by studying how to best use online advertisements to access, engage, and enroll members of Black communities in heart disease-related clinical trials. The researchers understand the challenges to recruiting members of this population, which include cultural and language differences and technology challenges, and hypothesize that inviting Black people to help design clinical trials recruitment materials — especially digital marketing — will increase Black people’s interest in participating.

“Online advertisements could help identify Black adults interested in joining trials and improve their representation in heart disease clinical trials. Modern commercial advertising programs use the internet and social media platforms, but surprisingly, there isn’t much online advertising used in trial recruitment,” said principal investigator Tim Plante, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. Plante’s UVM collaborators include Tim Lahey, M.D., M.MSc., professor of medicine, and Yuanyuan Feng, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science.

The UVM researchers will ask people from the Black community — who will be recruited from the Baltimore area by Hopkins and Morgan — to help design digital recruitment websites and advertisements on Facebook and Google. The team will determine the cost of producing the digital approaches and then test whether the digital materials succeed in recruiting more Black people to participate. They will also engage members of the Black community in Baltimore to codify privacy and ethical standards for digital recruitment methods.

“When we finish this project, we will know how to best run online recruitment for trials,” Plante said. “More importantly, we will know how to better engage Black adults in trial recruitment. We think this type of program can be applied to research across the United States and move the needle on health equity.”

DAITA is a component of a $4 million AHA grant, supporting a new center called Improving Participation Among diverse populations in Cardiovascular clinical Trials (IMPACT). The center, headquartered at Johns Hopkins with UVM and Morgan as partner sites, is part of a larger, $24 million research network connecting research institutions across the U.S. to strategically focus on increasing diversity in clinical trials. The AHA is the largest not-for-profit funding source for cardiovascular disease research after the U.S. government.

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