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Campaign Seeks More Minorities in Brain Disorder Trials

Al Roker, left, with B. Smith and Dan Gasby

Today Show’s Al Roker, left, with B. Smith and Dan Gasby (Today.com)

13 March 2015. A new public service campaign led by former actress and restaurateur B. Smith aims to recruit more minorities in clinical trials for brain disorders, such Alzheimer’s disease, from which Smith suffers. Smith and her husband Dan Gasby are partnering in the campaign with Brain Health Registry, affiliated with University of California in San Francisco and featured last year in Science and Enterprise. Smith and Gasby appeared this morning on NBC’s Today Show to tell their story.

B. (for Barbara) Smith is a former model and actress, who started a chain of restaurants featuring African-American cuisine and later became host of the television show “B. Smith with Style” on the Food Network. About 4 years ago Smith noticed increasing forgetfulness, which at the time both she and Gasby dismissed. At first, “you don’t believe it—there’s total denial,” Gasby told Today’s Al Roker. The disease progressed to the point where in November 2014, Smith became disoriented and wandered through the streets of New York City for over 17 hours.

Her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease energized Smith and Gasby to learn more about the disorder, where they discovered almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and among older Americans, racial minorities are more likely than whites to get the disorder. Older African-Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease, while Hispanics are 1.5 times as likely to get the condition. In addition, minorities tend to be under-represented in clinical trials testing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Even as the disease progressed and began affecting her speech, Smith decided to go public with her condition, to encourage more individuals to take part in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases, especially minorities. That campaign led to her appearance with Gasby on the Today Show, and recording a public service video for Brain Health Registry.

Brain Health Registry seeks to enlarge the pool size and diversity of people in clinical trials for brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injuries, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. The effort is led by UC-San Francisco radiology professor Michael Weiner, who founded the registry, and psychiatry professor Scott Macklin, with collaboration from a number of companies. Science and Enterprise profiled Brain Health Registry when it started out in April 2014.

The registry asks volunteers to provide a brief personal medical history and take a few online neuro-psychological tests to provide an outline of visitors’ mental functions. From this first pool, some participants will be asked to provide saliva or blood samples, and take part in clinical trials. All data, says the registry, will be protected according to federal privacy laws and the highest medical ethics standards. Some 10,000 people are now taking part in the registry.

Smith’s 30-second public service announcement for Brain Health Registry is below.

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