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Differences Can Make a Big Difference

People from different racial and ethnic groups have different biological responses to both diseases and their treatment. Whether we are talking about liver cancer in Asians, asthma and stroke in African-Americans, or diabetes in Hispanics, these are just a few of the devastating chronic diseases that affect different groups at different rates. Scientists and doctors argue about "cause and effect" here — how much is genetic and how much is a result of diet and other factors. One thing is for sure. Diversity in clinical trials is necessary to test for differences in outcomes and to improve the safety and efficacy of therapies for all people.

There are about 35,000 clinical studies underway today, and patient-volunteers, lots of them, are needed. In fact, without trial participants, groundbreaking medical research would come to a grinding halt. Moreover, the investigators who manage clinical trials need participants of different ages, gender and ethnicities, because the real world is made up of all kinds of people. Diversity in clinical trials helps illuminate the factors that cause differences in disease rates and pave the way for more effective medicines and medical procedures.

Talk to your doctor if you want to learn more about participating in a clinical trial. They aren't without risks, and you will have to judge whether the risks are worth the benefits that may be available to you. But for those of us who work in biomedical research, clinical trial participants are the unsung heroes who enable the advance of medicine. Check out the links in the resource section to find out more about clinical trials. Also, in the video box on the right, you can watch my segment on The Doctors where I talk about how clinical trials work. In the video, you'll hear first hand from a clinical trial participant who made a difference in medical progress.