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KU Medical Center's partnership with Swope Health Services is giving minority populations better access to clinical trials

December 03, 2013

By Andy Hyland

Quit2Live clinical trials participant Darlene Sonnier chats with a counselor at Swope Health Services

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center are continuing to build on a longstanding partnership with Swope Health Services to help involve minority populations that are often vastly underrepresented in clinical and translational research studies.

Swope serves as a safety net clinic for people who may have very low or no income. About 80 percent of the patients are African-American. Those patients are able to benefit from the 16-year-old partnership by receiving drugs and treatment that they may not otherwise be able to afford.

When minority populations are included in research, it expands the usefulness of that research to a greater population, says Tricia Snow, project director for KU Medical Center's Department of Preventive Medicine. She coordinates many of the Swope programs and works out of that office.

"If you want to generalize your results to the general U.S. population, you can't just study one racial or ethnic group," she says. "If there is a difference between groups, we want to know why that is."

Recruiting patients from minority populations to participate in clinical and translational research trials can be difficult for a variety of reasons, Snow says.

Transportation can be a big issue. While Swope is easily accessible on a major bus route, KU's Clinical Research Center in Fairway isn't.

"It's extremely convenient for Swope's clientele," Snow says of the Swope facility at 3801 Blue Parkway in Kansas City.

Nikki Nollen, Ph.D., an associate professor of preventive medicine and public health at KU Medical Center, is leading the fourth in a series of smoking cessation trials at Swope. Working with collaborators, Lisa Sanderson Cox, Ph.D. , associate professor of preventive medicine and public health, and Jas Ahluwalia, M.D., the former chair of preventive medicine and public health and now the executive director at the Center for Health Equity at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Nollen has been able to nurture long-term ties with the patient population there.

The Swope name carries a lot of weight in the community and is well-respected and trusted.

"If it was KU Medical Center running the program in the Swope community and wasn't affiliated with Swope, I don't think we would get very many folks," Nollen says.

Through Nollen's Quit2Live program and the Kick It at Swope studies, led by Ahluwalia and Cox, researchers have been able to demonstrate that African-American smokers have a more difficult time quitting and have demonstrated benefit of a drug, buproprion, for African-American smokers. In the future, the researchers hope to more fully examine the question of why African-American smokers have a harder time quitting, Snow says.

More than 2,500 participants from Swope have received no-cost pharmaceuticals or counseling for improving health behaviors through KU Medical Center-led research through the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health.

Because of the ongoing success of that work, the Swope facility has been designated as a satellite site for the Clinical and Translational Science Unit (CTSU) of Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. That opens up the space for clinical trials for use by any faculty member at KU Medical Center and other regional partners.

Jeffrey Burns, M.D., the Edward H. Hashinger Professor of Neurology and associate director of the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center, is also the director of the Frontiers CTSU.

Staff members at the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center have been trying to recruit patients to participate in a national clinical trial to test the cognitive and physical benefits of aspirin for patients 65 and older. The trial has already recruited its maximum allotment of white participants, but researchers have had difficulty in enrolling minority populations.

By making a clinical trial site available at Swope, the Alzheimer's Disease Center staff has been able to enroll 20 people in the trial since May.  That is 10 times as many as they were able to recruit in the previous months before opening a site at Swope.

"The difference has been dramatic," Burns says. "By reaching more of an underrepresented population, we're able to make our research more meaningful and applicable to the people we're trying to help."

"We've collaborated with KU on a number of fronts through the years," says Dave Barber, president and CEO of Swope Health Services. "In some partnerships, KU providers and residents have supported our efforts to provide care; in others, such as the smoking cessation program and the Alzheimer's project, we've assisted them in gathering critical data on the population we serve. In all cases, our patients have benefited and continue to do so," he added.

Last modified: Jul 26, 2018