This week, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) pledged $13.6 million toward funding cancer clinical trials in Louisiana and Mississippi—specifically, among minority and underserved cancer patients, who are often left out of research, The Associated Press reports.

Nationally, racial and ethnic minorities are distinctly underrepresented in clinical trials. Over 13% of Americans are Black (15% if bi- or multiracial people are included) but only about 5% of people in clinical cancer trials are Black. This underrepresentation not only means that individuals don’t have access to the latest experimental treatments but also undermines the ability of research studies to identify treatments that work across diverse populations

The new Gulf South Minority/Underserved Clinical Trials Network will combine and expand two networks in Louisiana already working to enroll more people in cancer clinical trials: a community oncology research program run by Ochsner Cancer Center in Baton Rouge and an ongoing research collaboration that involves LSU Health New Orleans, LSU Health Shreveport and the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge.

The network’s long-term goal is to increase the number of new cancer patients involved each year in cancer research across Louisiana and Mississippi. Major health providers in the region will get funding for various types of research, including treatment trials and studies on early detection.

One study plans to enroll 167,000 women nationwide in a study comparing standard mammography and new 3-D mammography methods. About half of the women enrolled through the Ochsner network will be African American, which will help the overall national study achieve a more representative racial balance.

NCI funding will also go toward expanding programs for studies about cancer prevention and early detection. Other studies will look into reducing the negative impacts of cancer treatment and expanding the role of cancer survivorship in medical research.

Today, less than 5% of all new cancer patients nationwide participate in clinical trials. But providers at LSU Health say they’re already doing better than that, having enrolled more than 1,300 patients in clinical studies last year—far surpassing its expected 200. Meanwhile, Ochsner’s network enrolled nearly 200 patients in its own clinical studies in 2018. Researchers say this new NCI funding will help it do its outreach even better.

“I think patients are interested and eager to participate, especially in today’s world, where they really study and explore through the internet what are the opportunities and treatment of their disease,” said Augusto Ochoa, MD, director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Canter at LSU Health New Orleans, who will help oversee the research.

The newly funded partnership will eventually increase the number of participating sites in the Gulf South Minority/Underserved Clinical Trials Network from 22 to 42. Most are in 10 cities around Louisiana, though the partnership is expanding into the Mississippi towns of Hattiesburg, Natchez and Gulfport. Major health providers in the region, including the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge and the Christus Health community sites, will also participate.

To read the original AP report, click here.

To learn more about minorities, cancer and clinical trial disparities, click here.