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Cancer: It takes a community
Ideas include town meetings to recruit for IRBs
Several institutions have received grants to implement their ideas for engaging the community in cancer clinical trials.
The grants were awarded earlier this year by Communities as Partners in Cancer Clinical Trials, an NCI-funded initiative to find innovative ways of including the public in every stage of the clinical trial process.
Partners in the initiative released a report last year that recommended a number of steps toward increasing community input into cancer trials. They also announced the grant program for institutions that implemented some of those ideas.
"We sought in this initiative to go significantly beyond traditional patient education on cancer clinical trials and select projects that can serve as models for meaningful, sustained community engagement," says Communities as Partners Co-Director Serena D. Seifer, MD, research associate professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Seattle.
Two of the institutions in particular – Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, TN, and the Carolina Community Network at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill – have plans that eventually could benefit their IRBs.
Vanderbilt, in collaboration with its academic and community partners, will launch a series of town hall meetings, inviting representatives from different local communities in order to expand awareness of cancer research among underrepresented groups.
"Part of it will be an education piece where we talk about clinical trials, and the rest will be a focused discussion where we hear from them what the issues and concerns would be about the research, says Debra Wujcik, RN, PhD, director of clinical trials at Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution that is one of Vanderbilt's academic partners in the project.
Another goal of these meetings, Wujcik says, is to identify community members who might be willing to serve on research advisory boards and IRBs. IRB representatives from the different institutions also will be invited to attend the town hall meetings so they can hear the community's input.
"We're hoping for a kind of two-way dialogue, and at the end of the year, we hope to end up with a cadre of maybe six to 10 people who we can work with from the community," Wujcik says. "We can use their insights and participation to help us improve our processes."
With its grant, UNC's Carolina Community Network, a regional cancer network set up to reduce cancer disparities among African Americans, plans to create a statewide community advisory board (CAB) to review Phase III clinical trial protocols and provide guidance to cancer researchers.
Giselle Corbie-Smith, MD, MSc, co-investigator on the project, says the CAB initially was envisioned as serving the state's three NCI-designated cancer centers, but she would like to see the project expand to serve other cancer centers in North Carolina as well.
"We're actually hoping to reach out to other organizations that tend to be primarily community based hospitals, not academic health centers," Corbie-Smith says. "I think there is an opportunity to really support awareness building about clinical trials at some of these non-NCI centers."
She says the goal would be to have not only racial and ethnic but also geographic diversity on the board, which would include cancer survivors, advocates and caregivers. Despite the potential for far-flung membership on such a committee, Corbie-Smith envisions the board holding actual meetings while employing technology to supplement them.