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First health disparities research center in U.S. comes to Chicago

In Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, residents have disproportionately high rates of diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers aren’t sure why. They suspect poverty and even race may play some factor … but they’re not exactly sure how, and doing that kind of research doesn’t come cheap.  
But researchers hope to make progress soon.
The federal government announced Englewood will be home to the nation’s first research center dedicated to studying racial disparities in health care.

ambi: What brings you in today? Cough and congestion.

Access Community Health Network runs dozens of clinics throughout the Chicago area.
This center on 52nd and Ashland is in Englewood, a community that’s mostly black and low income.
The Access health center has been treating low-income patients for a while, but now it’s ready to expand its scope.
Just a few blocks away. It’s opening a research center to study racial and ethnic disparities in health care.
The National Institutes of Health is providing $6.7 million to build it.
ambi fades of clinic
Mickey Eder directs research programs for Access. He says the research center should help answer some important questions.
EDER: In some ways, we have to think about research from a slightly different perspective. We know how to treat diabetes. We know how to treat hypertension. We know those are two significant issues in Englewood, and the South Side and urban communities in general. And so one question can be – why if we know a lot about these diseases and if we have effective treatments, we’re not as effective in some communities as in others.
Eder says right now, it’s not clear how well researchers really understand minority communities. For example, if a doctor tells a patient to eat healthy food, but doesn’t realize that the patient lives in a food desert, there’s a disconnect.
There’s going to be a lot of scientific heft behind the center. Researchers from the University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago and Northwestern University are expected to set up shop in the new facility. Still, the center will be less white coats and exam rooms. Eder says it’s important for people in the larger community to feel ownership over the research about them. Much of that will come from discussions in the neighborhood, at the center.
EDER: We’re not just saying that researchers sits in their office, comes up with this great idea, writes a proposal, gets it funded and then goes out in the community and says ‘would you please participate in this project and help us learn?’
Interaction with the neighborhood will help guide the design of future health studies. Gregory Farber is with NIH, the institute that awarded Access the grant for the center. He says minority groups tend not to be in research studies.
FARBER: If you don’t have members of those groups participating, it’s really not possible to understand why those groups have disproportionately high rates of disease.
There’s some evidence that the neighborhood wants the center to succeed.
Doris Jones is a community organizer with a nonprofit called Teamwork Englewood.
Jones says juvenile diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS are big health problems in the neighborhood, and it would be great to understand why.
JONES: I think it will bring some positive research to our community where it actually will involve the community in the research and it won’t be research just about the people – not without them being involved in the process.
The Access research center is scheduled to break ground this year and open in 2013.

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