Redes helps children find state-of-the-art therapies

May 29, 2009. Redes En Acción is spearheading a new National Cancer Institute-supported effort to boost enrollment of Latino children in leukemia clinical trials.

Based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the project will seek to increase recruitment of patients from the heavily Hispanic United States-Mexico border region into pediatric hematology / oncology studies.

“We have an opportunity to help the underserved and disadvantaged Latino population in the Lower Rio Grande Valley attain cutting-edge therapies,” said Amelie G. Ramirez, project principal investigator. “We anticipate boosting recruitment rates for critical childhood and adolescent leukemia clinical trials by 20 percent or more.”

Dr. Ramirez is principal investigator of Redes En Acción and Director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).

Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents in both the United States and Texas. About 30 percent of all childhood cancers are leukemia.

In South Texas, the incidence of childhood and adolescent leukemia is higher than in the rest of Texas and in the nation, according to the IHPR’s South Texas Health Status Review, which identifies health disparities affecting whites and Latinos. In South Texas, the incidence of childhood and adolescent leukemia is higher for Latinos (59 / million) than for non-Hispanic whites (48.7 / million).

In addition to guiding more Latino cancer patients to new therapies, the project is helping researchers gain important new information.

“Knowledge about risk factors for childhood and adolescent leukemia is limited,” Dr. Ramirez emphasized, “and participation of disadvantaged populations and groups with higher incidence in clinical trials is absolutely critical.”

The focal point of the project is development of a patient navigation (PN) program at UTHSCSA’s Regional Academic Health Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to open new opportunities to offer clinical trials to more children and adolescents.

The navigator, Cynthia Wittenburg of the IHPR, is making patients’ families and physicians aware of clinical trials and helping overcome barriers to participating in them. The PN program will allow investigators to improve enrollment in both therapeutic trials and cancer control studies.

In addition to working with medical and nursing staff and assisting patients and their families, Wittenburg is acting as a liaison with area pediatricians and other clinicians, providing information about pediatric clinical trials.

The intervention is also developing culturally sensitive, bilingual educational brochures for patients’ families. The print materials, tested for readability, attractiveness, and message comprehension with the intended audience, will serve as an educational tool providing critical information about child and adolescent clinical trials.

Serving as co-principal investigators on the project are Luis Velez, MD, PhD, MPH, and Anne Marie Langevin, MD. Dr. Velez is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UTHSCSA and member of the IHPR team, and Dr. Langevin is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UTHSCSA and a principal investigator in the South Texas Pediatric Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program.

The project, supported by a one-year NCI grant administered through Redes En Acción, could be extended if results appear promising.