September 24, 2007

C.U. Project Focuses on Clinical Trials, Critical to Cures

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Weill Cornell Medical College, the communications department and the Leukemia Lymphoma Society are collaborating in a research team called the IMPACT project (Improving Methods for Patient Accrual to Clinical Trials), which will investigate the ways people receive medical information and the factors that influence their consequent decisions.
Dr. John Leonard, who initiated the project, was concerned about the low number of patients in the U.S. enrolling in clinical trials. Every new treatment must undergo a certain number of trials, and Leonard said he hopes that IMPACT will help speed up this process.
“In the US, only two percent of patients participate in clinical trials, and if we could just raise the number to five or six percent, we would get a trial done a year faster. Thousands of people die when it takes a year or two more to test a cancer treatment,” Leonard said.
Leonard explained that many patients might not know clinical trials are available, or they may not have the economic means to travel to the hospital where the treatments are offered.
“There is other research out there, but ours takes a communications science perspective — we are looking at where people seek their information. We are looking for increased participation in clinical trials, but we also want to empower people to make informed decisions based on risks versus benefits,” said Prof. Katherine McComas, communications, head of the IMPACT team.
The team also includes Geri Gay, chair of the Department of Communication, Janet Yang grad and Dr. Andrew Dannenberg of Weill Cornell Medical College. Part of their research will include a national phone survey of randomly chosen adults, as well as a comparison sample of cancer patients from the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.
Comparing the less invasive clinical trials to the psychology experiments in which students participate at Cornell, McComas mentioned that Weill Cornell Medical College even recruits healthy volunteers off of Craig’s List.
“Clinical trials are not limited to giving someone a pill or a serious treatment; there is a wide range of trials, sometimes just to compare a person with a certain disease and another person without that disease,” McComas said.
“I think that what we’re learning can apply to normal volunteers and people who are less sick, like allergy studies. We are looking to provide a toolbox of techniques to engage people in clinical trials,” Leonard said.