Jackson State University public health professor joins inaugural national research program to bring more diversity in clinical trials

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Dr. Nelson Atehortua De la Pena, an assistant professor of public health in the College of Health Sciences at Jackson State University, has been selected by the National Medical Fellowships’ Board of Directors to join the inaugural cohort on Diversity in Clinical Trials Research program (NMF-DCTR).

With his selection by the National Medical Fellowships’ Board of Directors, Dr. Nelson Atehortua De la Pena at Jackson State University expressed optimism for marginalized communities. The public health professor in the College of Health Sciences said the underserved should have confidence in the safety and efficacy of new drugs, vaccines, medical devices and other innovative therapeutic and diagnostic products.

De la Pena, in JSU’s College of Health Sciences, expressed his appreciation to the National Medical Fellowships for the award.

He said the honor goes beyond the scientific importance of just being part of this “eminent fellowship program” in the inaugural cohort. “It entails the possibility of making clinical research accessible, ethical and fair with underserved, and usually marginalized communities – especially those served by Jackson State University.”

Established in 2021, the NMF-DCTR program seeks to expand the pool of minority physicians currently underrepresented in medical research who could serve as principal investigators (PIs). The effort is part of a broader strategy to increase the diversity of patients who participate in clinical trials.

Thereby, the result would improve the ability to better demonstrate safety and efficacy of new drugs, vaccines, medical devices, and other innovative therapeutic and diagnostic products in all populations – especially the traditionally underserved.

The NMF-DCTR mission is to ensure that treatment and preventive regimens are thoroughly and properly investigated across all intended populations. To comply with this purpose, NMF-DCTR has developed a comprehensive program with two components.

One features a curriculum to provide fellows with the core knowledge, skills and competencies (KSCs) to engage in clinical trial activities, and the other provides post-training support that will include opportunities for mentoring and networking to bridge the gap between training and practice. The NMF-DCTR will equip awarded emerging investigators with the tools and support to participate in and lead clinical research teams.

As an expert in public health, De la Pena has been actively involved in the efforts to prevent and control the COVID-19 pandemic. These include fighting the deleterious effects of constant miscommunication that has created distrust in the population about the virus, preventable measures and the vaccines. He said his work will continue to press forward for a healthier Mississippi as he tries to raise the visibility of the state’s urban HBCU.

De la Pena also explained that the award comes at a very convenient time to support his scheduled doctoral-level class for the spring 2022 semester on Clinical Intervention Trials in the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health.

“Students will benefit from the interaction with state-of-the-art knowledge and processes. It is essential that our students have an opportunity to look at these best practices as roadmaps to produce optimal results in their own research work and be ready for a bright future,” De la Pena said.