Saturday, July 07, 2001

Alzheimer researchers ask for help from blacks

UK study until now has included only whites

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — University of Kentucky researchers performing a study on Alzheimer's disease are recruiting members of Lexington's black community to join the program.

        The school's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has recruited more than 400 volunteers for the study over the past 12 years but, until recently, had no black participants.

        Scientists say that is a problem as they investigate a disease that is two to four times more likely to strike blacks than whites.

        Members of the Biologically Resilient Adults in Neurological Studies (BRAINS) program are asked to submit to periodic neurological and medical testing and, at death, to donate their brains to the university for study. Participants must be at least 60 and in good health.

        Researchers acknowledge that the group must reflect a more diverse cross-section of the population than it does now.

        “We're going to be letting the minority community know more about Alzheimer's; about the fact that there are high rates of Alzheimer's among African-Americans; and that research is something that they should be involved in,” said Kelly Woodall, a Sanders-Brown research assistant who heads the recruiting drive.

        Sanders-Brown formed the BRAINS group in 1989, attracting more than 400 Caucasian men and women from Lexington and central Kentucky. It is one of the nation's oldest Alzheimer's research groups.

        The idea was to provide a pool of patients for tracking the disease, and a supply of healthy brains to compare with the diseased brains of Alzheimer's victims.

        Ms. Woodall recently recruited her own mother, Gladys Hayes-Moore, as the first black BRAINS member.

        Ms. Woodall said earlier efforts to recruit black volunteers may have been unsuccessful because of a lingering feeling among some blacks that they were not welcome at UK. That suspicion dates back to segregation at the school in the 1940s and 1950s, she said.

        Another factor might be blacks' general distrust of the medical establishment stemming from incidents such as the 1930s Tuskegee experiment, in which U.S. Public Health Service doctors allowed black men with syphilis to go untreated as part of a study.

        Finally, Ms. Woodall said, many blacks might not realize that Alzheimer's research should be important to them.

        “I don't think it's well known in the community that African-Americans develop Alzheimer's at higher rates than whites do,” she said.

        Columbia University confirmed in 1998 that blacks are two to four times more likely to get Alzheimer's than whites, and that Hispanics are about twice as likely as whites to get the disease.

        No one knows why that's so. But Fred Schmitt, an associate professor of neurology and an Alzheimer's researcher at Sanders-Brown, said involving more blacks in the study might help provide clues.


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