Partnership Seeks Better Cancer Outcomes for American Indians through Research


American Indians face disparities in many areas of health care, including cancer. American Indians in Minnesota have not experienced a decline in cancer incidence and mortality like the rest of the general population. Cancer is the leading cause of death for American Indian women, and the second for American Indian men. Some of the most common cancers affecting American Indians are lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.

"Historically, American Indians have not had access to preventative care. Many American Indians live in rural Minnesota and aren't in close proximity to clinics. Many are also uninsured or underinsured," said Carol Hernandez, Research Coordinator for Ne-la-Shing Clinic and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribal member. "These are just some of the many factors that lead to health care gaps for American Indians."

A partnership between the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (MLBO), the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) at the University of Minnesota (UMN), and the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN) is working to close these gaps in cancer through access to cancer clinical trials.

Clinical trials are research studies that work to develop new treatments for diseases, such as cancer.
There are also clinical trials in cancer detection, diagnosis, and prevention. People volunteer to be involved in clinical trials. Today's cancer treatments were developed as the result of clinical trials. By participating in clinical trials, participants are able to potentially improve their lives as well as the lives of others in the future.

"It is important for American Indians to participate in clinical trials so we can gather data specific to American Indians. Current data tends to be gathered from studies on Caucasians and results may not be in line with what is best for American Indians," Hernandez said. "Research can lead to better treatment options, new medications, new interventions, and possibly cures for American Indian populations."

The goal of the partnership is to create studies that are tailored specifically to American Indians in Minnesota, while ensuring the studies are respectful to cultural beliefs and practices. The partnership decided to focus on reducing lung cancer because lung cancer is one of the most frequent cancers affecting American Indians in Minnesota.

Funding to set up the needed infrastructure and staffing to conduct the studies was provided by MNCCTN. One example of funded infrastructure was the purchase of a freezer to store research samples at the Ne-la-Shing Clinic. MNCCTN is a statewide clinical trials network funded by the state legislature. The network aims to improve cancer outcomes for all Minnesotans through greater access to cancer clinical trials in prevention and treatment.

A research study is open now at Ne-la-Shing Clinic in Onamia. The study examines nicotine metabolism, the speed at which nicotine is processed, in current smokers as a potential reason for the high level of smoking and lung cancer in American Indians. American Indians smoke at much higher rates than the general population. For example, 59% of American Indian adults in Hennepin and Ramsey counties report that they are cigarette smokers, while the state of Minnesota's overall smoking rate is 16%. While the current study is not a treatment study, data collected on nicotine metabolism may provide useful insight into what treatment works best for each smoker.

To participate in the study, individuals are asked to complete a phone screening with Carol Hernandez. If eligible, they can come to the clinic for another screening. After the in-person screening, eligible participants can continue and complete the study. Participants are compensated for completing the study. The clinic visit typically takes two to three hours in total.
To find out more, call Carol Hernandez at 320-532-7575.