houston voices

Representation in research matters, says this Houston expert

"When researchers include people from various racial, ethnic, and identity backgrounds in health studies, we can be more confident that the results of the studies will apply to everyone." Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Diversifying your human subjects for studies is essential for good research.

"Up to 75 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to convert an antiplatelet drug into its active form and therefore are at higher risk for adverse outcomes following angioplasty," said the University of California San Francisco Participant Recruitment website. "And if the study population had not included diverse participants, this difference would not have been discovered."

Loretta Byrne of ResearchMatch and Danielle Griffin of University of Houston weigh in.

Need help with recruitment?

"Diversity and inclusion of all people in research is essential, yet the vast majority of people are unaware of research opportunities," said Loretta Byrne, RN, MSN, CCRP national project manager for ResearchMatch, a nonprofit funded by the NIH. ResearchMatch helps to set volunteers up with researchers working on all types of studies that require human subjects. "This nonprofit provides a space for the community to essentially raise their hands and say, 'I'd like to know more.'"

There are other such agencies, including studyscavenger.com that set volunteers up with researchers; and some pharmaceutical companies have dedicated portals like helpresearch.com.

Be a champion

UC San Francisco, a champion for diversity, held a Recruitment of Underrepresented Study Populations webinar which gave practical advice to researchers well, searching, for human subjects for trials. Nynikka Palmer, DrPH, MPH, Assistant Professor, UCSF School of Medicine, and Esteban Burchard, MD, MPH Professor, UCSF School of Pharmacy went on to urge researchers thusly:

"Participants in research should reflect the diversity of our culture and conditions, taking into account race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc. The lack of diversity among research participants has serious ethical and research consequences."

What types of consequences could be incurred from failing to test a representative sample? "It impedes our ability to generalize study results, make medical advancements of effective therapies and it prevents some populations from experiencing the benefits of research innovations and receipt of high-quality care," explained the authors.

Establish trust

Danielle Griffin, Ed.D., CIP, associate director of Institutional Review Boards (IRB) in the Office of Research Integrity and Oversight at the University of Houston, is concerned with researchers' behavior when they do garner volunteers. "Researchers need to go to where people are," and instead of just collecting data, "they must establish relationships. Trust is an important aspect of why people decide to participate in studies."

Trust may be difficult to establish in some cases and with some prospective demographics. It would be remiss to not acknowledge historical traumas in conjunction with medical human subject trials, like the Tuskegee Experiment. Language barriers are another concern, which is why Byrne goes on to say that the participants' first languages are also taken into consideration when volunteers are recruited through ResearchMatch.

The big idea

Avoid taking the easy path. Griffin warns against "convenience sampling." She said it's easiest for researchers to use undergraduate students for their participant pools rather than to look for a set that most resembles the greater, local community. "If your research concerns the general population and the participants in your study are essentially all 18-year old students from your campus," said Griffin, "you're not going to achieve a representative sample."

"When researchers include people from various racial, ethnic, and identity backgrounds in health studies," said Byrne, "we can be more confident that the results of the studies will apply to everyone."

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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