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May 4, 2011 / A10 Clinical Solutions, Inc.

Guest Blog: Why Diversity?

Guest Blogger Andrea Samuel is A10’s Supplier Diversity Manager and focuses on ensuring business is honest and fair to all capable vendors.

At A10 Clinical Solutions, and in the clinical trials world, Diversity is of the utmost importance. If we dig deep, there is a long history of clinical trials that distinctly excluded populations, and even targeted certain populations to conduct unscrupulous and even cruel and barbaric trials. 

Take the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment that studied the natural progression of untreated syphilis:  the research started in 1932 and continued over a 40 year period.  More than 300 African-American sharecroppers from Alabama were enrolled for this study but had no idea about the disease they were actually carrying.  Even worse, when Penicillin became the standard treatment for this illness in 1947, the experiment’s scientists continued the study without treating the patients and many of them died.    Such a double whammy:  first to think that you are receiving free healthcare and then to be left to die of a curable disease.  Theevents were heartless, and had there been more focus on diversity in those days, and on monitoring the integrity of clinical trials programs, such an “experiment” could never have been allowed to take place. 

Let’s talk about Henrietta Lacks, who visited Johns Hopkins Hospital in the early 1950’s because of a painful “knot” and bloody discharge.  A biopsy led to a cervical-cancer diagnosis. Treatment was given but her conditioned worsened and she died at the age of 31.  The unbelievable part to this story is the legacy after her death…..You see, the cells from the cancer were removed without her knowledge or permission, but were used to conduct various clinical trials and studies.  Henrietta’s cells were unlike any other the scientists had seen, as they could be kept alive and growing.  Named “He-LA” after Henrietta Lacks, these celles were considered “immortal.”  There are almost 11,000 patents who have utilized “He-La” cells and the cells have been a fundamental anchor in medical and biological research. 

However, this wonderful medical miracle news was never shared with Henrietta’s family until long after its popularity.  In fact, the family started getting calls from researchers in the early 1970’s who did not thank the family or compensate the family for the numerous experiments conducted from Henrietta’s cells.  The researchers even wanted blood samples from them!  So Henrietta never benefited and sadly her family, who were themselves impoverished, never really benefited from this wonderful discovery.  Recent focus on this story is helping the family now, over 60 years and billions of dollars in money changing hands, later.

The history of what happened in the past still creates reluctance for all populations to participate in critical clinical trials that advance science, or to choose career paths in the life sciences.  There are populations where there is real fear and general mistrust out there of science and the entire clinical trials, clinical research and clinical studies processes.  The current generation of kids and college students are tomorrow’s scientists……we want everyone represented.  If we can move past the past, if you will, and keep moving down the path of doing the right thing for everyone involved, we will have succeeded.   Organizations such as Diversity Alliance for Science, our non-profit organization that brings together major pharmaceutical companies with an assembly of talented and diverse clinical suppliers in an annual conference, helps educate and foster relationships to ensure that the stories mentioned above are a thing of the past.

Our mission at A10 is Healing the World and to ensure that especially underserved populations are represented in the clinical research, clinical trials and clinical studies designed to heal everyone.

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