This is the beginning of a weekly conversation about science and research. Today we speak with Bashir Easter, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison All of Us team at the Center for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Times: The past year has been extremely tough on the African American community. COVID-19 has hit communities of color hard, on top of racial justice issues that have impacted families physically and mentally. How do you reconcile the current climate with the work that you are trying to get done with the All of Us Research Program?
Dr. Bashir Easter: Many of us on our team come from the communities of color we serve, so we know first-hand of the tremendous health disparities in the African American and LatinX communities. We have seen family members and friends die from COVID-19 in the past year. Our communities are also the ones who have been left out of research in the past. In some cases, research experiments have been detrimental to ethnic communities – for example the Tuskegee experiment and Henrietta Lacks and her super HeLa cells. All of this erodes the trust of research and the clinical trials that lead to vaccines, but we have tried to provide information on our All of Us MKE Facebook page to help our communities make informed decisions for themselves about vaccines and research.
Milwaukee Times: Explain the All of Us Research Program for those who may not have heard about it yet or who need more clarification.
Dr. Bashir Easter: All of Us was created in 2015 during the Barack Obama Administration and our UW-Madison Center for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships in Milwaukee is part of the Wisconsin consortium comprised of UW-Madison, Marshfield Clinic, the Medial College of Wisconsin, and Gunderson Health System. All of Us is a national effort that aims to build the largest most diverse database of health information of its kind that researchers can use to study health and illness. We want to support researchers in efforts to understand how different genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors impact health and disease. With this information, researchers can look to improve the ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat health conditions. This could lead to improved health for generations to come.
Milwaukee Times: When you say large, how large do you mean?
Dr. Bashir Easter: We hope that one million or more people will join the All of Us Research Program. People who join will share information about their health, habits, and what it’s like where they live. They do this by answering online surveys and by donating blood, urine, and/or saliva samples. By looking for patterns in this information, researchers may learn more about what affects people’s health.
Milwaukee Times: Thank you, Dr. Easter. What will you have for us next week?
Dr. Bashir Easter: Next week, we’ll talk about what people can expect when enrolling in the All of Us Research Program.
Do your own research about the All of Us Research Program nationally, by going to www.joinallofus.org, visiting our All of Us MKE Facebook page or calling (414) 882-1376.