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NIDDK Opens Office of Minority Health Research Coordination

By Jane DeMouy

On the Front Page...

When it comes to health and disease, national health surveys paint a bleak picture for racial and ethnic minorities: African Americans have 1.6 times the rate of diabetes as whites. Hispanic Americans have almost twice the rate of disease found in non-Hispanic whites. American Indians get diabetes three times as often.


Long-term diabetes inevitably leads to complications and the numbers are no different there. Blacks develop kidney failure four times more often and are much more likely to have lower limb amputations than whites. Both blacks and Hispanic/Latinos suffer more diabetic eye disease than their white counterparts. There is more hypertension and more obesity, especially among older black and Hispanic women. There is more heart disease, more stroke, more hepatitis, more ulcers, more gallbladder disease. Childhood and adolescent type 2 diabetes, a recent phenomenon, is occurring mostly in minorities.

To address these problems, Dr. Allen M. Spiegel, NIDDK director, has announced the opening of a new Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, headed by Dr. Lawrence Agodoa. "Minority health research is central to NIDDK's mission," Spiegel says.

NIDDK's newly appointed OMHRC director Dr. Larry Agodoa coordinates elements of the institute's strategic plan with Program Director Rose Pruitt (c) and Program Analyst Winnie Martinez.

The OMHRC will first evaluate the research gaps in NIDDK-supported diseases. Staff will then help develop and recommend research such as studies of underlying metabolic and physiological differences in populations, to fill those gaps. The office will suggest ways to fund the work, but grants will come through existing programs.

"We will be doing a lot of collaborating to try to reduce these burdens," says Agodoa. "We'll seek the ideas of health care givers and community leaders, and certainly will encourage NIDDK collaboration with other institutes with mutual research interests. Eventually, we hope to have a cooperative network among NIH institutes, voluntary groups, university centers and private businesses to energize our efforts to reduce these disparities."

Over the long term, OMHRC will coordinate and implement NIDDK's strategic plan to address health disparities among minority populations. Another important goal in lifting the disproportionate burden of disease is recruitment and training of minority biomedical investigators, who are currently in short supply. OMHRC will also disseminate information and develop a database identifying resources in funding and manpower as well as trends unique in minority populations.

NIDDK has done longstanding and ground-breaking research in diabetes among the Pima Indians. In the last decade, institute leaders initiated the Diabetes Prevention Program, a clinical trial with nearly 50 percent minority volunteers, and the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), a joint program with the CDC that targets several minority audiences. NDEP received the Secretary's Award for Distinguished Service in May for "outstanding leadership" in developing culturally and linguistically appropriate media campaigns with multiple minority partners. "Sisters Together," a pilot weight control program for African American women in Boston, is moving into other communities.

NIDDK currently funds the African American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension, and other research based at historically black universities, and supports two summer student research programs with local minority schools. The Study of Health Outcomes of Weight Loss, another clinical trial slated to begin this fall, will also emphasize minority enrollment.

Nevertheless, Spiegel thinks it's time to augment these efforts. "This new office will help implement our strategic plan for health disparities and build on our strong partnership with the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health. I'm confident that Dr. Agodoa will be a strong and effective head," he adds.

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