Prostate cancer affects a disproportionately high number of black men — occurring at an incidence rate nearly twice any other race or ethnicity. So during research study recruitment, it behooves researchers to recruit a higher percentage of black men.
But it rarely happens.
“Only 5 percent of prostate cancer research subjects are black men,” said John Cullen, PhD, director of diversity and inclusion at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “This can lead to great disparities in health outcomes, as the effectiveness of drugs can vary based on a patient’s race.”
Despite a Congressional mandate that NIH-funded research include minorities, a recent study found that less than 5 percent of NIH-supported trial participants are non-white.
Cullen, who joined the CTSI in January, is tasked with narrowing some of these gaps that can affect and sometimes stymie medical research. He is also looking at ways that the medical center can encourage diversity among staff and faculty.
“Studies have shown that a more diverse workforce is a more productive workforce,” said Cullen. “You get a wider array of ideas, which leads to better and quicker advances.”
The former chair of the University’s Pride Alliance, Cullen became interested in diversity and inclusion early in his career and has extensive experience working with both the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and the Office for Inclusion and Culture Development. In recent years, he received his graduate certificate in LGBT health policy and practice, and began working at the Susan B. Anthony Center, where he serves as coordinator of outreach and works to translate research into policy, with a focus on healthcare disparities and vulnerable populations.
Previously, he spent 15 years in the Department of Surgery, conducting both basic science and clinical research into how alcohol consumption affects cardiovascular disease and trauma.
Within the CTSI, Cullen hopes to spread the message among researchers that focusing on diversity – specifically studying diverse populations or ensuring that a study cohort is adequately diverse – is a worthwhile endeavor. On a broad level, Cullen will support the University’s strategic plan, which includes a sustained effort to promote diversity and inclusion by developing a central infrastructure that enables consideration of issues of diversity in workforce development and trainee education. A more diverse culture helps with recruitment and retention, as well as scientific impact.
“Studies have shown that journal papers are cited more likely to be accepted and cited more often if the authors’ names have diverse origins,” said Cullen. “A line of authors with all Anglo names is less likely to be cited than a mixed group.”
Cullen’s office is in the CTSI Director’s Office of the Saunders Research Building. Stop by and say hello!