National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health
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Download Entire Issue (PDF): 1.2MB Winter/Spring 2008  •  Vol. XXXII, No. 1



  • Cover Story

Engaging Communities



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Engaging Communities

Partnerships among researchers, health care providers, and patient communities are helping to bring research advances to the people who need them.
By Laura Bonetta

During the 1970s, Pittsburgh football fans watched L. C. Greenwood bring home four Super Bowl victories for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Today, he can be spotted in a short video bringing home to viewers a message about the benefits of participating in clinical research studies.

Greenwood stars in the 30-minute documentary “Clinical Research: Advancing Science & Changing Lives,” produced by WQED, the Pittsburgh public television affiliate, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), a recipient of a 2006 Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from NCRR. The film, a version of which is streamed on the University of Pittsburgh CTSI Web site, is one of the institute’s many activities aimed at engaging its community.

NCRR-funded programs like the CTSI in Pittsburgh increasingly involve communities in translational research—the process of taking basic laboratory findings and translating them into strategies to prevent or treat diseases. To achieve its purpose, translational research must engage members of racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural and inner-city areas, who face much higher rates of disease, premature death, and disability than other populations (see “Health Disparities”). The key to this engagement, regardless of the type of program or population served, is two-way communication that establishes partnerships among researchers, health practitioners, and their community members.


Health disparities refer to gaps in the quality of health and health care across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. In 2003, the Institute of Medicine published Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, a landmark report that reviewed health disparities and helped raise further awareness of this issue at the national policy level. According to the report, “racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive lower quality of healthcare than non-minorities, even when access-related factors, such as patients’ insurance status and income, are controlled. The sources of these disparities are complex, are rooted in history and contemporary inequities, and involve many participants at several levels.”
More recently, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality published the 2006 National Healthcare Disparities Report on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide a national overview of disparities data in both quality of care and access. The report documents that racial and ethnic minorities continue to receive poorer quality of care than whites according to 22 essential quality-of-care measures. Specifically, Hispanics receive poorer quality of care compared to non-Hispanic whites in 77% of these measures, African Americans in 73%, American Indians and Alaska Natives in 41%, and Asians or Pacific Islanders in 32%.