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In a Heartbeat

University of Pittsburgh study to tackle racial disparities in Alzheimer's disease research

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Jennifer Lingler, director of outreach at the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center
Jennifer Lingler, director of outreach at the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer Disease Research Center

The University of Pittsburgh was recently awarded more than $2.6 million to conduct a study tackling racial disparities in Alzheimer's disease (AD) research. We asked Jennifer Lingler, director of outreach at Pitt's Alzheimer Disease Research Center, for details. She received the grant from the National Institutes of Health.

What will you research with this grant?

The grant is primarily designed to increase diverse participation at the AD research center. We will use the funds to test unconventional recruitment strategies and analyze the effectiveness of those strategies. Our goal is to triple the number of African-American research participants.

How will you execute the research?

Studies show that messaging that highlights problems and disparities can actually turn people away from participating in research, so it's time to find new, more positively framed methods to raise awareness of the need for more diversity in AD research.

People are most likely to participate when they have a personal connection to the disease, so our strategy will focus on storytelling. By allowing current research volunteers to share their stories of research participation, including what motivates them and keeps them coming back, we hope to inspire others to join them in the fight.

We will interview current African-American participants and create video clips that highlight key aspects of their personal stories. These clips will be shared on social media, and we will conduct studies to test the effectiveness of this strategy. We ultimately hope to find a successful recruitment strategy that can be implemented in the 30 other AD research centers across the country.

Can you explain the importance of diversity in Alzheimer's research?

African-Americans have almost double the risk of getting AD as Caucasians. Yet, the drugs that are currently available to treat the disease have been tested almost exclusively on Caucasian people. These drugs may affect everyone differently, so it's important to test them on a sample representative of the population. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, existing treatments are used less frequently in African Americans than whites. Another issue is that some studies are impossible to conduct without adequate diversity.

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