Where can a scientist find African Americans to participate in a study? Take a cue from a hit feature film about a neighborhood gathering place, said several community leaders who attended a recent meeting at Fred Hutchinson.
"How many of you have seen 'Barbershop'?" asked Dr. Rayburn Lewis, medical director of Swedish/Providence. "As controversial as it is, it actually is a good social comment. And everybody needs a haircut."
The barbershop strategy seems to be working so far for Dr. Deborah Bowen, a Public Health Sciences Division scientist who heads a study on dietary intake in low-income religious organizations. Eighty percent of those who belong to such organizations are women, she said.
"My colleague, Dr. Alton Hart, had a wonderful idea," she said. "We're now looking for men, and to find them we're targeting African American barbershops. We've found more than 50 in Seattle, and we're recruiting from there. The barbers are excited, and we hope to set up kiosks there."
Bowen is especially pleased that barbers are willing to broach with their customers topics such as eating habits and prostate-cancer screening.
"It's not something that people typically talk about when they get their hair cut, but once it comes up, it does get discussed," she said.
The point, Bowen said, is for researchers to think creatively about how to reach populations that historically have been underrepresented in studies.
"It's rolling up your sleeves and being with people where they live when they make choices about what they do," she said.
"By thinking about where people live and play and work, even where they get their hair cut, we can find individuals and large groups and transfer information and hope to them."
Lewis and Bowen were among 25 who attended the Jan. 9 meeting of the center's Community Advisory Council, organized by Winona Hauge, community-outreach manager in External Relations.
The meeting was designed for leaders in the communities of groups underrepresented in research trials to exchange ideas with Fred Hutchinson scientists and staff who run such trials.
The leaders, some from partnering clinical institutions, included Garry Lowry of Comprehensive Cancer Control of the state Department of Health, Calvin Lyons of Washington Mutual, Dr. John Vassal, former Fred Hutchinson trustee; Dr. Patricia Dawson, breast-cancer surgeon and community-health worker at Swedish/Providence; and Emelia Downey-Williams, oncology surgeon at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
Dr. Rainer Storb of the Clinical Research Division reviewed recruitment issues historically. Other center speakers included Dr. Gloria Coronado, Dr. Beti Thompson and Suzanne Kolb of PHS, Heather Hughes of the Puget Sound Oncology Concsortium and Kim Williams of Human Resources, as well as Nancy Zbaren of the Cancer Information Service.
Besides seeking participants via barbershops (and beauty shops, for women), ideas that emerged at the meeting included contacting college fraternities and sororities geared to African Americans and golf tournaments of organizations such as 100 Black Men of America.
Advice at times was pointed.
"Never send literature to officers of an organization," suggested Elizabeth Patterson, retired radiologist and center volunteer. "You need to get down to the grassroots."
Those from the center appreciated the opportunity to brainstorm with the community leaders.
Kolb, manager of PHS prostate-cancer studies, reported the limited responses to national appeals for African Americans to join a family study.
The low number of replies was especially troubling because African American men have a 60 percent higher risk of a prostate-cancer diagnosis than Caucasians and are twice as likely to die of the disease.
"We need help with African American recruitment," she said. "That's why I'm here."