$8.5M Grant For Hypertension Research Will Target Men At Black Barber Shops

June 18, 2014  |  

Ronald G. Victor, MD, director of the Hypertension Center in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, has been awarded an $8.5 million grant to zoom in on the issue of Black Americans and high blood pressure. To do this, Victor will reach out to patrons at barber shops in Los Angeles.

One in three adult Americans (about 67 million) suffer from high blood pressure, according to the CDC. However, the ill effects of the condition (among them heart attacks, strokes, and organ failure) hits the black community particularly hard. Forty-three percent of black men and nearly 46 percent of black women suffer from hypertension.

To tackle the problem, there needs to be research into the conditions that cause high blood pressure. Because Blacks respond differently to medication than whites, researchers cannot apply broad findings to a minority population. (Beta blockers for hypertension, for example, have proven to be less effective for Blacks than Whites.)

However, African Americans only account for five percent of clinical trial participants, according to a 2011 Food and Drug Association study. This dearth of Black participation in clinical trials is killing us.

“We need to find a way to reach out to the community and prevent the serious complications caused by high blood pressure because all too often, by the time a patient finds out they have the condition, the heart and kidneys already have been damaged,” Victor said.

Some say African Americans have been hesitant about participating in research trials due to the Tuskegee Experiment. The infamous 40-year study, which was spearheaded in 1932, unethically infected 400 black farmers with syphilis under the guise of “treatment” for bad blood.

“African Americans were used as guinea pigs…,” Dr. Stephen Thomas, director of the UMD Center for Health Equity, said. “Our ancestors warned us to be wary of hospitals and researchers.”

Other experts say minorities are simply uninformed about available clinical trials: “Many African Americans […] say they are willing to participate in research, but have never been asked,” LouisianaWeekly adds.

To rectify these issues, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute granted Victor $8.5 million to recruit 500 Black male barber shop patrons at 20 locations around LA. Since the ’80s, black-owned hair shops have offered customers blood pressure checks during haircuts. Previous research that Victor has conducted found that lives could be saved if more people were being screened while getting their do done.

“The goal of the new trial is to test the effectiveness of barbershop hypertension programs and whether expanding such programs is feasible and cost-effective,” Phys.org says.

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