Office of Health Disparities Research

Addressing Health Disparities is Our Priority.

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Oct 30, 2017 · OHDR names 2018 Pilot Project awardees

The Office of Health Disparities Research (OHDR) has awarded funding for three 2018 Pilot Projects that align with OHDR’s two-fold mission of advancing health disparities research and increasing minority participation in clinical trials.

OHDR is pleased to announce the following recipients of the 2018 round of Pilot Projects:

  • Megan Allyse, Ph.D., Health Care Policy & Research (Rochester): “Views of Women With Uterine Fibroids on Fertility Preservation and Restoration”
  • Samuel Antwi, Ph.D., Health Sciences Research (Florida): “Factors Affecting African American Participation in Cancer Research and Response to Return of Hepatitis Viral Load Research Findings”
  • Mark Wieland, M.D., Primary Care Internal Medicine (Rochester): “Closing the Gap: Improving Cancer Screening in Patients With Limited English Proficiency”

The selected projects represent a wide variety of disparities topics across a diverse field of medical disciplines. Dr. Allyse’s project was also selected for the “Women’s Health Pilot Award” as an outcome of a collaboration between the Mayo Clinic Office of Women’s Health Research and OHDR to encourage and expand Mayo Clinic research on women’s health in underserved populations.

Megan Allyse, Ph.D.

Samuel Antwi, Ph.D.

Mark Wieland, M.D.



Sep 29, 2017 · AACR Highlights Mayo Clinic Researcher's Study on Underrepresentation of Elderly and Ethnic Minorities in Clinical Trials

The American Association for Cancer Research featured a study, led by Mayo Clinic’s Narjust Duma, MD, in a national press release related to its 2017 Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved. Dr. Duma’s study, internally funded by Mayo Clinic, established that the elderly and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in cancer therapeutic trials, and that African American and Hispanic enrollment in such trials has declined over the past two decades. The AACR’s press release, viewable HERE, was picked up and broadcast by Eureka Alert , NewsMax Media, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’s EurekaAlert! science news, NewsMax Media’s newsmax health, HealthDay news, and U.S.News and World Report. OHDR Congratulates Dr. Duma on this prominent recognition!



Sep 22, 2017 · 2017 OHDR Retreat Keynote Address by David R. Williams, Ph.D.

Approximately 100 researchers, clinicians, educators and administrators from all three Mayo Clinic campuses attended the 2017 Office of Health Disparities retreat, held Aug. 22–23 in Rochester, Minn. The event kicked off with an inspiring keynote address presented by David R. Williams, Ph.D., Harvard University, entitled “The House That Racism Built: Consequences and Opportunities for Health Equity.”  Key points of Dr. Williams’ presentation included:

  • Allostatic load due to everyday discrimination and racism leads to early onset of disease due to biological weathering.
  • Socioeconomic status is a major cultural determinant of health.
  • To prevent unequal treatment by providers, stereotype replacement is necessary.
  • When cultural competence in providers is high, racial disparities are minimized.

Watch Dr. Williams’ stirring presentation:

View the presentation slides:

Sep 8, 2017 · Lessons From Henrietta Lacks’ Story: Improving Research Collaboration With Patients, Communities

LaPrincess Brewer, M.D., (second from left) discusses the film “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

Stunned, surprised and moved — These are just some of the reactions people shared in a discussion on ethics, race and medicine after viewing the movie, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, at the Science at the Cinema event in Rochester, Minnesota, held in August. The film tells the compelling story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were removed during cervical cancer treatment in 1951 without her knowledge or permission. Those cells were then used to make pioneering discoveries for many medical treatments still used today.

Many attending the Science at the Cinema event were shocked by the unethical treatment of Lacks and her family back in 1951, and some expressed reservations about participating in research. However, others felt that the scientific community has taken steps to more appropriately address ethical issues today.

What’s changed to prevent it from happening again?

A lot has changed in the 66 years since Henrietta Lacks’ cells were used without her knowledge or permission. Today, investigators must obtain informed consent from participants before initiating a research study. In addition, participants’ privacy rights are now protected.

LaPrincess Brewer, M.D.

According to LaPrincess Brewer, M.D., a cardiologist and clinical investigator within the Mayo Clinic Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, it is also critical for investigators to earn the trust of participants before initiating any research efforts. As she explains, the benefits can be far reaching.

“I trained at Johns Hopkins University where Henrietta Lacks was treated, and I also cared for patients from the same neighborhood where she resided. When working to enroll patients in research studies, I constantly addressed questions about why participation in research was important and how it would benefit them and their families. Through education and persistence, I gained their trust. This is critical because these participants are from minority populations that are traditionally underrepresented in medical research. Through their participation, we ensure that we have rich research data from all populations to help identify key genetic, biological or lifestyle differences that may help us individualize and improve care,” says Dr. Brewer.

Nasra Giama, D.N.P.

Mayo researcher Nasra Giama echoed Dr. Brewer’s comments on the benefits of educating potential research participants.

“As a researcher, I have seen how education can help enhance research participation. By translating research information for the local Somali community, we were able to inform participants about all aspects of the research process. They became more than just participants, they became partners in our efforts,” says Giama.

Mayo Clinic researchers are continually working to address ethical issues in medical research, seeking community input when developing new research initiatives. For example, Community Advisory Boards are in place to review policies that safeguard the privacy of those who donate blood and tissue samples for research to the Mayo Clinic Biobank.

Richard Sharp, Ph.D.

According to Richard Sharp, Ph.D., director, Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine Bioethics Program, Lacks’ story showcases why investigators need to understand that behind every research participant is a person and a community with a story.

“When designing a research project, investigators must consider how a study will affect those volunteering to participate. That’s where community input is so important. Our Community Advisory Board members help Mayo Clinic address issues such as how to return research results to participants and the best way to explain future projects. These perspectives have been invaluable in developing research that engages and ultimately will benefit the community,” says Dr. Sharp.

Mary Gorfine, community representative and chair, Mayo Clinic Community Engaged Research Advisory Board, also emphasized the importance of community involvement in research.

“I was very touched by Lacks’ story. While we have come a long way, it is still critical to keep the community involved” says Gorfine.

Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research ProgramMayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, Mayo Clinic Office of Community Engagement in Research, African Descendants Mayo Employee Resource Group and Rochester Public Library co-sponsored the Science at the Cinema event.

Learn more about bioethics in precision medicine

Dr. Sharp will present Ethical Challenges in Pre-Emptive Pharmacogenomics (PGx) Testing at Individualizing Medicine 2017: Advancing Care Through Genomics. Register to attend the conference to hear Dr. Sharp and other leading experts discuss the latest research in precision medicine and how it can be applied to improve diagnosis and treatment for many conditions

The Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine is hosting the sixth annual genomics conference, October 9–10, in Rochester, Minnesota. Register on the conference website.

This article originally appeared on the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine blog.

Aug 17, 2017 · David Williams, Ph.D. — Keynote for 2017 OHDR Retreat

As the Office of Health Disparities Research prepares for its 2017 Annual Retreat, word is spreading about the event’s keynote speaker, David Williams, Ph.D. Dr. Williams will share highlights of his illustrious career as a health disparities researcher, author and educator; and his development of the “Everyday Discrimination Scale.” Dr. William’s August 22 keynote address kicks off two days of presentations, workshops and networking for an audience of Mayo Clinic providers, scientists, educator, and administrators focused on reducing health disparities and improving health equity. While the retreat, which is open to all Mayo employees, is free of charge, registration is required.

Jul 28, 2017 · Powwow for Hope: Reaching out to Native American Communities

Michele Fairbanks, an Ojibwe specialist at American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, visited the Mayo Clinic booth at the Powwow for Hope.

In May, Mayo Clinic’s Office of Health Disparities Research (OHDR) hosted a booth at the 6th annual Powwow for Hope in Minneapolis to provide outreach on cancer research to Native American communities. Co-sponsored by Mayo Clinic, this year’s event raised over $110,000 to support the American Indian Cancer Foundation’s work to provide cancer education and supportive services to American Indians.“Our presence at Powwow for Hope is a wonderful example of our outreach to advance research at Mayo Clinic that addresses the unmet health needs of communities,” says OHDR Co-director Gloria Petersen, Ph.D. “We connected with many individuals who are cancer patients and cancer survivors, as well as with other institutions that are interested in collaborating with Mayo Clinic to conduct health disparities research.”

Gloria Petersen, Ph.D.

A number of attendees who visited the Mayo booth were cancer survivors who wanted to help with research, and many shared positive feedback about their experiences as patients at Mayo Clinic. Sumedha Penheiter, Ph.D., OHDR program manager, distributed information on research activities conducted by OHDR’s Native American Research Outreach (NARO), as well as the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.

As a funded National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is committed to population health sciences, one of the many areas in which its researchers excel. This includes research focused on cancer health disparities, and particularly in the large region around Mayo Clinic campuses.

Robert Diasio, M.D.

“We are particularly proud of our decades-long continuous commitment to cancer research and provision of cancer-related services with the American Indian and Alaska Native communities where our collaborations extend,” says Robert Diasio, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.

Addressing health inequities in Native American communities
Native American populations face some of the greatest health inequities in the U.S. Prevalence and death rates are higher than in white populations for many diseases.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Native American women and the second leading cause in men. Incidence and mortality rates vary by tribe and region, and are often much higher than in white populations. For example, in the Northern Plains region, the death rate from cervical cancer death rate is 4.2 times higher for American Indian and Alaska Native women than for white women, according to a 2014 report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Despite such disparities, Native American health issues remain under the radar as public health priorities, and communities face significant obstacles to prevention and treatment, according to Wesley Petersen, Ph.D., who directs the NARO program.

For over 20 years, NARO has conducted educational and research outreach on behalf of Mayo Clinic to tribes in the Upper Midwest, including collaborative projects on breast and colorectal cancer screening, prostate cancer treatment, and other research. In October, NARO will host a tribal conference at Mayo Clinic in Rochester to discuss strategies for addressing their community health priorities.

Powwow for Hope attendees visit Mayo Clinic’s booth.

— Kris Schanilec, July 2017

Jul 27, 2017 · Mayo Health Disparities Researcher: Invited Speaker at Breast Density and Cancer Risk Workshop

Dr. Carmen Radecki Breitkopf was an invited lecturer at the 8th International Breast Density and Cancer Risk Assessment Workshop, in San Francisco, CA, June 7-9, 2017. The title of her talk was “Communicating Risk and Density Information to Wom-en.” The presentation addressed cancer risk communication, breast density notifica-tion as a form of risk communication, and described her ongoing NIMHD-funded clinical trial (NCT02910986) to evaluate different methods of communicating breast density information to Hispanic women, for whom breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. The workshop attracted over 100 individuals from around the world who are leading experts in breast cancer imaging and risk assessment modeling. Dr. Celine Vachon, co-investigator of the ongoing trial, served on the Steering Committee for the international workshop. Congratulations to Dr. Radecki Breitkopf!

Jul 12, 2017 · Is It Fair to Expect Students From Minority Backgrounds to ‘Give Back’ in Their Careers?

Imagine you are a medical student and you’ve received financial aid based on your status as a member of a minority or low-income group. Should you be expected to pursue a career serving in underserved communities?

Not if society wants to tackle social inequity, according to a recent commentary published in the AMA Journal of Ethics by researchers from the University of Delaware, the University of Toronto and Mayo Clinic.

“Society flourishes when we allow its most talented to be free of our biasing expectations of where and how they should use their talents,” says co-author Jon Tilburt, M.D., a health disparities researcher and professor of biomedical ethics and medicine at Mayo Clinic. “We should challenge the status quo that assumes that talented minority clinicians owe more to society than any other clinicians.”

In the commentary, the authors untangle the expectations on a second-year medical student of Native and Latin American ethnicity. She is enthusiastic about applying for a competitive specialty program, but her fellow students assume she will put to use her cultural and language skills as a primary care provider in underserved communities.

Many assumptions — both conscious and unconscious — are at play, related to gender, race, and even the student’s receipt of a scholarship and federal financial aid, say the authors. And these assumptions create barriers at the personal, institutional and societal levels for students who are members of underrepresented minority groups.

“We shouldn’t hold minority clinicians to a higher standard of service just because they grew up in deprivation. We should address the fundamental drivers of inequities in society and then give individuals the latitude to use their gifts like any other student,” says Dr. Tilburt.

“Conversely, we should revisit and potentially bolster the citizenship expectations of all professionals to serve the common good regardless of their background and ethnicity, so that it becomes a common norm that serving in less economically or geographically desirable locations becomes part of the healthcare culture of services.”

Read the article: “Why It’s Unjust to Expect Location-Specific Language-Specific or Population-Specific Service From Students With Underrepresented Minority or Low-Income Backgrounds.”

Authors are:

  • Barret Michael, Ph.D., University of Delaware
  • Maria Athina (Tina) Martimianakis, Ph.D., University of Toronto
  • Jon Tilburt, M.D., Mayo Clinic
  • Frederic Hafferty, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic

— Kris Schanilec, Public Affairs

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