The National Institutes of Health named the chairman of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science to help investigate why African American scientists face lower odds of winning medical research grants from the agency.
A study published last week in Science Magazine showed that African American scientists were less likely than whites to gain grants from the nation's premier funder of biomedical research.
Even when making statistical adjustments for an apples-to-apples comparison, the NIH-commissioned study still found that research grants for black applicants were funded less often than for white scientists by a margin of about 10 percentage points. Roughly, 27% of white applicants were approved, versus 17% for blacks, the report showed.
"The results of this study are disturbing and disheartening, and we are committed to taking action," said NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. He added, "This study shows that we still have a long way to go."
Others racial groups fared better than African Americans. Asians, for instance, received grants at a slightly lower rate than for whites, but the difference disappeared when separating out applications from foreign-born citizens. Latinos also finished with similar numbers to whites.
In response, the agency assembled two panels to gather expert advice on achieving its diversity goals. M. Roy Wilson, M.D., M.S., who chairs the Board of Trustees, joins an external panel of experts called the Diversity in Biomedical Research Working Group. An internal group, called the NIH Diversity Task Force, also was created.
The external experts report to Dr. Collins, and will be expected to produce by June 2012 its final recommendations. Others with previous ties to the University also were involved in the agency's plans.
For instance, Reed Tuckson, M.D., a former president at the University, is the executive vice president and chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group. He is a co-chair of the external task force.
Raynard S. Kington, M.D, the former co-director of the Charles R Drew University/RAND Center on Health and Aging, helped put together the study in 2008 while he was deputy director at the agency. Now, he is president of Grinnell College in Iowa.
In an article published in the New York Times, Dr. Kington told the newspaper that he credited agency officials with taking action on the study's results.