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Clinical and Research News
Partnership Will Reverse Neglect Of Minority Mental Health Issues
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 8 page 56-56

For many years, minorities have been conspicuously underrepresented in psychiatric research, both as investigators and subjects. Now, thanks to a $6.5 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to Howard University, researchers will gather valuable information on mental health from minority populations.

The five-year grant, awarded in January, will fund a range of studies investigating mood and anxiety disorders and will pay particular attention to cultural and ethnic differences in diagnosis and treatment outcomes.

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William B. Lawson, M.D.: "There has been concern about the lack of research on mental health issues by African-American investigators."

Researchers at NIMH and Howard University, a historically black, private university in Washington, D.C., will collaborate on the studies. "There has been concern about the lack of research on mental health issues by African-American investigators, as well as a lack of involvement by African-American patients in these studies," said William B. Lawson, M.D., who is professor and chair of Howard University’s department of psychiatry.

"What we at Howard University bring to the table is the ability to look at differences in biological markers for mental illness, as well as the prevalence of symptoms of mental illness across ethnic groups," he told Psychiatric News.

Lawson is collaborating with Dennis Charney, M.D., director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Research Program in NIMH’s Division of Intramural Research Programs, to develop the study protocols to be supported by the new grant.

Charney spoke with Psychiatric News about the missions driving the collaboration between NIMH and Howard University. One mission, he said, is to get more minority patients involved in psychiatric research.

"There are critical gaps in information regarding minority patient populations, including response to different kinds of psychiatric medications and differences in etiology or pathophysiology of different disorders," he said. "We are hopeful that we can fill these gaps with this collaborative project."

Charney said that another goal of the multiyear project is to provide mentoring and research training to minority investigators, "so that we can help [the investigators] to be successful in obtaining independent, peer-reviewed funding from extramural sources of grants and, ultimately, attract more minority scientists to the field."

Although the specific research protocols are still in development, Charney said he expects that there will be as many as 10 studies involving both minority and nonminority populations of all ages, and that the studies will most likely begin within the next year.

Charney added that there are some scientific protocols under development at NIMH that may be suitable for participation by Howard University investigators and may benefit from the recruitment of minority subjects.

One of these study protocols would involve adults with depression and diabetes. "Diabetes is a common medical problem in minorities, and there is evidence that patients with depression have reduced sensitivity to insulin," said Charney. "When patients are depressed and they have diabetes, their ability to control glucose is impaired" (see article on page 48).

Charney said that in light of this problem, investigators would like to test the effects of antidepressant drugs on the ability of research subjects with depression and diabetes to control their glucose levels.

Another study may look at the prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder and include subjects who have been exposed to trauma.

Patient populations in all studies will include both minorities, who will be recruited by investigators at Howard University, and nonminorities, who will be recruited at the NIMH Bethesda, Md., campus. All of the studies funded by the grant will take place in tandem at both institutions, said Charney, and investigators at Howard University and NIMH will work together to study treatment outcomes across different ethnic groups. ▪

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

William B. Lawson, M.D.: "There has been concern about the lack of research on mental health issues by African-American investigators."

Researchers at NIMH and Howard University, a historically black, private university in Washington, D.C., will collaborate on the studies. "There has been concern about the lack of research on mental health issues by African-American investigators, as well as a lack of involvement by African-American patients in these studies," said William B. Lawson, M.D., who is professor and chair of Howard University’s department of psychiatry.

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