“We’ve got work to do”: Health Equity series explores lung disease disparities

This year, COVID-19 has disproportionately attacked the lungs of Black and Latino people. But inequities in lung health are nothing new to researchers, patients and health care providers in minority communities.

Those lung health disparities were front and center on Tuesday for Black Lives, Black Lungs, when attendees from Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health and the Virginia community joined lung health experts for presentations on the latest research and a conversation about paths forward.

Hosted by the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, the event was the first in a quarterly series that will bring people together in an effort to address pressing concerns in health equity.

Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D., chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine at VCU Health, presented at Tuesday’s event on current research in lung health.

Black people have the highest rates, deaths and hospitalizations for asthma. There are large disparities along racial and gender lines in the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). And at-risk Black people are less likely to be screened early for lung cancer, and Black men with lung cancer are likely to die sooner than white patients.

Virginia, Nana-Sinkam noted, still has work to do in increasing screening rates among eligible patients. Only 5% of people determined to be at risk for lung cancer had screenings – a number he called “appalling.” As a non-invasive procedure, covered by insurance, he urged that it be far more common.

“To determine screening eligibility, we need to look beyond people’s age and how much they smoke,” he said.

Rita Miller of the Virginia Department of Health presented at the event.

Rita Miller of the Virginia Department of Health highlighted the marketing tactics used by tobacco companies in Black communities. “In the U.S., 90% of African-American smokers use menthols,” she said. “Tobacco companies privately studied generations of smokers. Much of what we’re just now learning, they’ve known for a long time.”

Miller screened a short film on the topic and touted the commonwealth’s Quit Now Virginia program. Its services include a patient referral portal for doctors. And she presented on FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies and non-nicotine medications that help people quit.

Nana-Sinkam also highlighted promising treatments that individualize treatment and programs that create meaningful community partnerships. He encouraged health professionals to engage in policy on topics like environmental quality and access to health care. And he encouraged clinical trial enrollment of underrepresented populations.

Health care providers and institutions, Nana-Sinkam said, have to do more to get out in the community and serve as a credible voice in cancer prevention. The complexity of the factors involved can be daunting.

“But it’s really not about us,” said Nana-Sinkam, the associate director for career development and mentoring at Wright Center and researcher at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “The reality is we’ll have to reach out to people on a number of levels, partnering with communities to better understand the complexities of these issues.”

Robert Winn, M.D., director of the Massey Cancer Center, also gave a call to action for health care providers and community leaders, urging them to reimagine health research as integrated with the people it affects.

“The pursuit of academic excellence, while good, leaves many of our communities out in the cold,” he said. “How are we going to ‘be woke’ in our research, in order to ensure our work impacts the community in an academically relevant way?”

Treatment, in addition to considering genomics, should consider the “community-omics” of a patient, Winn said. That means taking the context of a person’s built environment and socioeconomic factors into account. Lung Health disparities, he added, are a “failure of the system.”

The event closed with a community discussion about next steps, places for growth and collaborative opportunities.

“We’ve got work to do,” said Winn, citing the partnership between Massey, the Wright Center and other VCU entities as a good start.

You can watch the Nov. 10 event online. The next Health Equity event will be February 9, 2021, and focus on prostate and colorectal cancers. Learn more and register online.

Katie Schifano, Lauren Harris, Mary Harmon

Raising the Standard of Treatment: Wright Center joins community conversation about clinical trials and COVID-19

Lauren Harris, M.S., M.Ed., the Wright Center’s hub research capacity administrator, joined experts at VCU and VCU Health today to engage the community in Virginia Commonwealth University’s role as a clinical and translational science hub.

Harris offered participants an overview of the importance of clinical trials in human health research.

“They really show researchers what does and does not work in humans,” she said. “Trials help our loved ones live longer. They raise the standard of treatment.”

Harris promoted the Wright Center’s StudyFinder, which directs patients to clinical trials at VCU that they might qualify for.

Katie Schifano, M.S., outreach and engagement specialist at VCU’s Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, spoke about ResearchMatch, which connects people to trials across the country. She encouraged event participants to join the service, as well as to talk to their doctors about trials they might qualify for.

“Today’s treatments come from yesterday’s clinical trials,” said Schifano.

Finally, Mary Harmon, Ph.D., VCU Health’s director of clinical research, spoke to the rapid response to COVID-19 at VCU, which the Wright Center played a large role in. The pandemic, she said, was a chance to revamp many processes and procedures around clinical trials participation.

The goal she said, was that “every patient that walks in the door is offered the opportunity to be part of a clinical trial.” About 130 patients, she said, have enrolled in COVID-19 clinical trials at VCU Health Systems.

The event was part of the VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education’s free Community Series. The virtual sessions take place on third Wednesdays between June and October this year.

July 15 Community Series Presentation (pdf)

screen shot of event
Lauren Harris presents on the history of clinical trials during the July 15, 2020, event.

WATCH: Antonio Abbate and Joan Greer in conversation with Lauren Harris for Clinical Trials Day

Lauren Harris, Wright Center’s hub research capacity administrator, interviews Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., the medical director of the Clinical Research Unit and an associate director at the Wright Center, and Joan Greer, R.N., nurse manager at the Clinical Research Unit at VCU Health.

Abbate and Greer answer your questions about clinical trials participation and what it’s like running clinical trials during a pandemic – in honor of Clinical Trials Day on May 20.


Full transcription below:

Lauren Harris (00:06):

Good afternoon. Thank you all for taking the time out of your day to come and speak with me this morning about clinical trials. As we all know, and the world may also know, that international clinical trials day is coming up on May the 20th. This is truly a time for us to thank our clinical research, trial coordinators, our nurses, our doctors, anyone who helps in getting clinical trials off the ground. International Clinical Trials will be celebrated across the world, not only from VCU and VCU Health, but across the globe. We will all be telling you thank you for your hard work and your dedication that you all put into this. Surrounding this, this day allows us also to broadcast some of the clinical trials that we have going on here at VCU and VCU Health. So today with me, I have. Dr. Antonio Abbate who is the director of the clinical research unit here at VCU Health and Joan Greer, who is the nurse manager on the North 8 floor for the Clinical Research Unit. Thank you guys. Read More

Now, more than ever: Clinical Trials Day 2020


Patient-centric care means patient-centric research. And that’s what the Wright Center and VCU Health do.

International Clinical Trials Day on May 20 celebrates the tireless work of the doctors, nurses and staff that make clinical trials happen. And it’s a chance to encourage patient participation in clinical trials.

On May 20, 1747, Scottish physician James Lind conducted the first clinical study of the treatment of scurvy on 12 sailors. Lind discovered that, of six therapies, oranges and lemons had the greatest positive effect on sailors’ health.

Today at VCU there are 492 active clinical trials with 5,347 participants enrolled, including several testing COVID-19 drugs like canakinumab and sarilumab.

Clinical trials advance research and medicine for all. And now, more than ever, we see the role that clinical trials can play in advancing public health. Trials at VCU like those of remdesivir have already contributed to what we know about COVID-19 and how we can treat it.

What can I do?

Members of the community and patients can:

  • talk to your doctor about clinical trials
  • search the Wright Center’s StudyFinder for current studies
  • sign up for ResearchMatch to get notifications about future studies
  • follow the VCU Clinical Trials Facebook to read about recruiting studies
  • post your support of clinical trials participation and those that make it possible with #CTD2020 and tag Wright Center’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Doctors and researchers can:

  • inform your patients about ongoing clinical trials
  • talk to them about resources like StudyFinder and ResearchMatch
  • post your support of clinical trials participation and those that make it possible with #CTD2020 and tag Wright Center’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Read More

VCU Health news, “From darkness to light: COVID-19 survivor shares her story as a patient and clinical trials participant,” May 20, 2020

Richmond Magazine, “Play your part,” May 1, 2020

VCU News, “Cancer survivor advocates for clinical trial participation,” March 29, 2019

Watch More

International Clinical Trials Day!

The Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research sponsored the International Clinical Trials Day event on May 19th at the VCU Gateway Building. Visitors, patients, and staff learned about the history of clinical trials, how to navigate StudyFinder-the central point for enrolling in clinical trials, and discovered how research is changing patients lives!  “I have seen so many patients being positively impacted by Clinical trials and everyone in VCU Health systems works hard to make sure that is always the reality.  Happy International Clinical trials day.” Sofanit Almaw Dessie Our staff and clinical trial participants are true heroes-making advances every day in research to improve patient outcomes! To make a difference, get involved in research, or find out about exciting clinical trials go to: https://studyfinder.cctr.vcu.edu/

Mary Madu and Kimberly Bradley Lead Brown Bag Presentation on Clinical Trial Recruitment


The VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research (VCU Wright CCTR) hosted the second in its five-part Fall Brown Bag Lunch seminar series. Attendees were encouraged to bring their lunch and learn about best practices for clinical trial recruitment in a presentation led by Kimberly Bradley, EMT, CCRP, manager of the coordinator pool for the CCTR’s Clinical Research Services (CRS), and Mary Madu, CCRC, advanced research coordinator for the CRS.

“People need to be invested in their own care before others can invest in them,” Madu said. “I try to be a support and source of education for folks so they can make informed decisions about their health and participation. Clinical trials have the opportunity to be a fun and really positive experience for all parties involved once participants are invested in themselves and they see that I am invested in them and the work that I do.” 

In addition to sharing their own best practices in clinical trial recruitment, Madu and Bradley discussed the various free resources available at VCU, including StudyFinder, ResearchMatch, and the VCU Clinical Trials Facebook page

“Exposure is an opportunity to educate,” Bradley said. “The more potential participants hear and learn about clinical trials, the more they’ll feel comfortable with the idea of participating. I always go back to the importance of education, whether that’s at the level of a participant, coordinator, or study team… Everyone can benefit from education.”    

The discussion of consent as a form of empowerment for participants was also discussed at length. For those suffering from a serious disease or illness, oftentimes they may feel as if they don’t have a choice in the care they receive or decisions that are made. It is the responsibility of the study team to stress that participating in a clinical trial is a choice that participants make for themselves.

“I consider my study participants to be invited guests and I treat them as such,” Madu said. “I want them to know that there is tremendous value in participating in a clinical trial, but that they have the power to remove themselves from it at any time. It’s important to me that they have a positive experience because I want them to know that I believe their time is valuable and they are valuable.”

To learn more about the VCU Wright CCTR’s Clinical Research Services, visit www.cctr.vcu.edu/clinicalresearch.

Mary Madu, CCRC, advanced research coordinator for the CRS
Kimberly Bradley, EMT, CCRP, manager of the coordinator pool for the CRS