Vanderbilt University Medical Center is trying to solve a problem that is currently hindering research: how to get enough participants — especially from minority groups — to take part in clinical trials.
The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Vanderbilt a $14 million grant to help researchers around the country find more people to study. By some estimates, more than a third of clinical trials have to stop because there aren't enough participants, says Consuelo Wilkins, a joint professor at Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College.
She says it's even harder to recruit minorities, women and older adults — which means, even if a study is completed, the findings might not apply to these groups.
"If we have studies that are only done on middle-aged white men, which was traditionally what happened, then drugs or preventative strategies that are tested in those trials really have only been shown to work on that particular population," she says.
Wilkins has worked on dozens of clinical trials, often in a consulting role, helping them figure out how to find more people. She'll be doing more of that — with at least a dozen trials a year — as a principal investigator of the NIH-funded Recruitment Innovation Center, a collaboration with four other universities around the country.
So how do researchers reach more people? Some of the tactics are pretty basic, Wilkins says: posting notices in community newsletters, using social media, making it more convenient for people to participate.
But then again, they're trained as medical researchers, not marketers. This research recruitment program at Vanderbilt will try to get them thinking about participation from the beginning of the study.
"We think about what our scientific question is going to be and what kind of person we want to answer this question," Wilkins says, "but we think much less about how to get them into the trial and retain them."