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Making research work for all

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

The Community Health Equity and Engagement in Research team shares information about research below, and specifically, why research is important to everyone.

What is research? In its simplest form, research is a process of answering questions and learning new information beyond what is already known. Research projects are designed according to a series of stages, starting with identifying a problem or issue and ending with study findings being shared and a call to action. In traditional health research, studies are performed by researchers on a community instead of partnering with the community, often failing to address the needs most relevant to these groups.

This can be especially true for racial and ethnic minority populations who are often underrepresented in research studies, which makes health disparities for these groups even worse. For example, if a research team discovers a new drug that is effective at treating breast cancer but a majority of the study participants are white, we may not fully understand the risks and benefits of this medicine in the Black/African American population, who already have poorer health outcomes when diagnosed with breast cancer. Similarly, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Latinos in the U.S., yet screening and follow-up is lacking due to language, insurance, and other barriers to receiving care. More research in this population is needed to better address social determinants of health; for example, where a person lives, what they eat, and how much money they make all contribute to their overall health. It is so important that research study participants reflect the diversity of the population and specifically that patients who are most affected by the disease have the opportunity to participate in research.

You may be asking why does this matter to me? The truth is that research is important to everyone. Research needs diversity to make healthcare work for all. In particular, engaging underrepresented populations in research can help make study results more generalizable.  This means we can better understand if something we find helpful in a research study will also be helpful to the broader population. By participating in research, you can have an impact on the quality of your own life, your loved ones’ lives, and your community.

Ready to make a difference? Check out the ONE group’s ongoing studies or the Volunteer Repository on Study Finder, a one-stop shop to learn about research opportunities at Penn State. Signing up is easy. The only required information is your name, email address and date of birth. There are options to provide additional information if you are interested. Consider contributing to a healthier future today.

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