ANN ARBOR, Mich. -Doctors at the University of Michigan Health System are leading an effort to increase participation in medical and behavioral research studies. The National Institutes of Health has awarded Michael Fetters, M.D., and the Detroit Science Center a $100,000 grant that will be used to increase the public's participation in clinical research.
Fetters, associate professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School, will work with the Detroit Science Center to increase public knowledge and understanding of translational medical and behavioral research. The grant will also focus on the effectiveness of an interactive display in a science museum setting for increasing public research literacy and willingness to participate in translational research.
Translational research has helped to improve human health by translating scientific discoveries into practical applications at the clinical level.
"The exhibit will offer visitors of the Detroit Science Center a chance to experience enrolling in a research study," says Fetters. "The Detroit Science Center is an educational and a really fun place where people have the opportunity to learn about the fascinating world of science."
The exhibit studies will be based on actual research projects conducted by researchers at U-M. Participants are required to give consent, like they would have to in a real research study, before they can participate at the simulated exhibit.
Researchers are hopeful that increased public participation and education will play a vital role in the advancement of scientific discovery in medicine. Using a gallery at the Detroit Science Center, visitors will enter a virtual hospital wing where they will learn about technology and participate in an exhibit that simulates experience in research. This exhibit provides individuals an opportunity to learn about real research participation, but the research activity is simulated.
Each participant will be assigned a mock disease and then travel to different stations to receive information about the disease. Afterwards, they will be given the opportunity to participate in a medical research study. Visitors will be asked to make a decision about whether to participate in the study via a sequence of steps similar to those presented in a real research study. Steps will include the completion of informed consent.
Visitors will learn about the research study, risks, benefits, alternatives, how confidentiality will be protected, compensation for participating, and how to get answers to their questions about being in the research study. As visitors make decisions about whether to participate in exhibit studies, they'll learn that being in research is voluntary.
One of the goals of the study is to increase minority participation in research studies. In the past, minorities have been less likely to participate in research studies, resulting in uncertainty about the value of the findings for minority groups. Fetters' study will work to encourage individuals of all backgrounds to participate in research projects.
Partnering with Fetters and the Detroit Science Center is Power Marketing, an Ann Arbor-based marketing research firm with a specialty in health and medical research methodologies. Power Marketing will conduct a series of focus groups with a community advisory board over the two-year grant period. The advisory board will provide feedback on the development of the exhibit, comment as it takes shape and report its opinions on the finished product.
"Using focus groups to develop the exhibit will allow us to gather feedback directly from potential visitors. Their opinions will help shape how the exhibit is presented to the public. Input like this will allow the Science Center to hear opinions before construction begins," says Debra Power, president of Power Marketing.
The community-based research will promote public understanding of and participation in health sciences translational research. Approximately 60 percent of the Detroit Science Center's visitors each year are children. This project aims to provide factual information to the visitors about the importance of participating in medical research studies.
Researchers also will develop a workshop that will teach students about genetics. Content will be selected to provide more information about various conditions and diseases presented in the exhibit.
"Using the teaching modules we've created, middle school and high school students will be able to take a field trip to the Detroit Science Center and fulfill their state science requirements for genetics content through participation," says Fetters.
Over the next 10 years, the researchers estimate 4 million to 5 million people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and age ranges will visit the exhibit. The exhibit is scheduled to open in fall 2009.
Written by: Jessica Brown