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In this MD Newsline exclusive interview with neurologist Dr. Mitzi Williams, we discuss how to improve the inclusion of diverse participants and diverse leadership in multiple sclerosis clinical trials. We also discuss how meaningful change is being made in healthcare to address health disparities, implicit bias, and systemic racism.

MD Newsline:

Moving forward, how do you think we can increase recruitment and enrollment of diverse groups in MS clinical trials? 

Dr. Mitzi Williams:

“Increasing diverse enrollment in clinical trials is an absolute passion of mine. I could talk about it all day, but I know we have a limited amount of time.

I think the ways that we can increase recruitment and enrollment are two-fold. We first have to recognize that there are patient barriers to participation, such as their distrust of the medical system, especially in the Black population, due to a very sordid history of experimentation. And with immigrant populations, there are concerns about their immigration status that may interfere with their participation in medical research.

But, second, we have to focus more on the systemic and institutional barriers, like very strict criteria for clinical trials that often exclude populations such as Black and Latino populations that have comorbidities. We also have to look at the implicit bias of some of our recruiters for these trials. There are people who don’t ask minority patients to be involved in clinical research. And finally, I think we have to think about where we conduct our clinical trials.

If they’re in the same centers that are getting these results that are not very diverse, how do we reach out to minority researchers or invest in centers that may not be as polished as some of our academic centers to try to raise up researchers and raise up centers and communities where we can reach these populations?

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So, I think we have to approach this issue from multiple angles. We have to not only focus on patient education, but also on breaking down these systemic barriers that are excluding these populations.”

 

MD Newsline:

Is there anything else you would like to speak on that we have not already covered? 

Dr. Mitzi Williams:

“If there’s anything else I’d like to leave with, it’s that there really is a sense of hope. Although we have seen many of these issues brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic—disparities in care, implicit bias, and systemic racism—I think that there really is a genuine push to address these issues, not only in the field of neurology but in many other areas of medicine.

So I’m very encouraged by the amazing work that’s being done by my colleagues across the country to address these issues and make meaningful change to improve healthcare for everyone.”

 

Responses have been condensed and lightly edited.

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