LOS ANGELES — It was obvious to Lesly Torres Gonzalez, even at a young age, that disparities existed in the healthcare system.
As a child, his English was much better than that of his mother, who had immigrated from Mexico to California. Gonzalez’s mother relied on her to translate at the doctor’s appointment and help fill out medical paperwork.
What do you want to know
- House Representative Nanette Barragan of Harbor City is the author of the John Lewis NIMHD Research Fund Revitalization Act (HR189)
- HR189 expands funding under the Public Health Services Act of 1944 to include critical research on health disparities through programs at historically black universities and colleges (HBCUs)
- The bill was approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March
- It is Congresswoman Barragan’s first stand-alone bill to pass Congress.
“Seeing [my mom] the experience of not understanding or having certain issues that she couldn’t find a way to solve kind of made me realize that health disparities exist,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes [health disparities] are difficult to address because there may not be enough diversity in these medical fields, or no research has been done on minority groups.
Gonzalez was inspired to change that.
As a graduate research student at Charles Drew University of Medicine, she studies diseases that disproportionately affect black and brown communities.
For example, she examines breast cancer tumors to find out how genetic mutations differ by ethnicity.
“That might kind of give us more insight into why these cancers react so differently in people of color,” she said. “Some cancers have a high prevalence in certain populations or higher mortality in other populations, even though the treatment is quite similar. . . So understanding genetics can help us develop a more individualized approach.
Research programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and medical schools like the CDU will benefit from a recently enacted bill.
House Representative Nanette Barragan of Harbor City, Calif., authored the John Lewis NIMHD Research Endowment Revitalization Act.
The bill was approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March.
It will expand eligibility for research endowments available through the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to include former centers of excellence in professional health schools and institutes. biomedical and behavioral research that meet the criteria related to the inclusion of persons belonging to under-represented minorities in programs and activities.
This means that HBCUs will have access to grants to fund research projects, hire staff, and provide scholarships to students from underserved communities.
Gonzalez said if the people in the lab truly represent the communities they’re trying to study, she thinks people of color might be a little less hesitant to participate in clinical trials.
According to the Journal of America Medicine Association, minority groups are vastly underrepresented in clinical studies.
Black patients represent only 5% of clinical trial participants in the United States.
“I sometimes feel like it’s due to miscommunication, the language barrier,” Gonzalez said. “The vocabulary used can be difficult for some people to understand, and I think science education is sometimes difficult for people who come from outside the country, like my mom, to understand.”
She is optimistic that once we see more minorities leading and participating at the research level, it will build trust in the process and in the science.