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Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials and Underserved Minorities

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Courtesy of Athira Pharma, Psychiatrist and Medical Director Bernardo Ng of the Sun Valley Research Center joins Suzanne to talk about Alzheimer’s clinical trials, particularly in underserved groups such at the Latino populations in the United States.

Dr. Ng is a Mexicali native who started his private practice in Imperial County in 1994. He became a Medical Doctor at the University of Nuevo Leon in 1987. After completing his year of social service in the city of Monterrey in 1988, he entered specialized training in Psychiatry, in El Paso Texas in 1989 and continued in San Diego California in 1992. Dr. Ng is currently the principal investigator for Sun Valley Research Center.

Dr. Ng says, “Clinical trials are the core of progress in pharmaceutical treatments. Most medical conditions do not get treated only with medications. There are many other forms of treatment, but in the particular case of medications, it is only with medical clinical trials that prove or not prove that the medication actually works. And the problem with the the lack or the insufficient participation of Latinos in clinical trials, specifically in dementia, is impressive. As you know, Latinx are the largest minority in the US — 16 to 18% of the population. Participation of Latinos in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s is anywhere from 1 to 2%. So that tells you how hard it is to ascertain that whatever is approved under those conditions will work the same both for efficacy and safety in the Latino population.

“Participating in clinical trials has a component of not enough information, not knowing the importance of why it is to participate, and fear. Thought of participating in a clinical trial and voluntarily putting yourself through a medication that has not been approved may sound scary, but the reality is that that’s how, number one: progress occurs, and number two: you can actually access a treatment years before it’s available in regular pharmacies. The Latino population in this country feel distant to that.”

Suzanne says, “You hear the stories of decades ago ,when there were trials going on, a lot of the placebos and stuff went to people of color, which really is unfair.”

D. Ng replies, “I’m very glad that you mentioned that because any of us interested in participating in the execution of clinical trials have to go through rigorous training, even before being approved or hired for any of them, which is called Good Clinical Practices. And it speaks a lot about this history that you’re talking about, how trials in the 20th century happened unethically, right? And how they put people of color through tests without having received their consent, without informing them of what was gonna happen. And yes, I think that has left a scar in our minority populations in the country. I think it’s very useful that media like this can inform people of how much that has changed, evolved. Every single step is supervised by an ethical review committee, any step is approved by the FDA.”

“Alzheimer’s is my passion. I’ve been treating older people for a long time, and there’s some peculiar peculiarities about the Latino or Hispanic population in this country that they live longer, which is interesting. Some time ago, it was called the Hispanic Paradox or the Latino paradox. With less access to care, they live longer — how is that possible? But it turns out that when you look into the detail, they may live longer on average, but also with less quality of life, or more morbidity, with more level of disease, and among other things, lack of access. But then also lack of knowledge that some things can be treated earlier. In the case of Alzheimer’s, many times they say, well, you know, it’s part of aging that he or she starts forgetting things. And transmitting the message that what we’re talking about is a disease that early on starts to cause some changes that can be manifested. Very subtle changes may already be announcing a disease. A lot of people of my ethnic background look at it as, if you don’t ask, if you don’t know, it’s better. It’s part of a cultural thing that has gone for the different generations and we’re trying to change it. That’s part of our mission, educate the community, bring services, bring trials to their door.”

Contact the Sun Valley Research Center in southern California at (760) 545-0123.

Learn more:
* Sun Valley Research Center: https://sunvalleyb.com/
* Athira Pharma: https://www.athira.com/
* Bernardo Ng: https://sunvalleyr.com/ourteam/bernardo-ng-md/
* Hear more Alzheimer’s-related podcasts from Athira Pharma: https://answersforelders.com/athira-pharma/

Answers for Elders is part of the SeniorResource Network: https://www.seniorresource.com/
Check out our affiliate podcast Alzheimer’s Speaks: https://alzheimersspeaks.com/