Annual Report Highlights: Precision Health partners with Michigan MENA population to diversify cohort

Feature Stories

Annual Report Highlights: Precision Health partners with Michigan MENA population to diversify cohort

Precision Health recruited its first participant into the Michigan and You: Partnering to Advance Research Together (MY PART) study in May 2020. Since its inception, MY PART’s main goal has been to diversify the Michigan Genomics Initiative (MGI) participant population, to build a research cohort that more accurately reflects the diversity of the U.S. in health status, age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, and geography. It’s been working.

When presenting on MY PART recruitment at the MGI 10th Anniversary Symposium in September 2022, Cohort Development Associate Director Jennifer A. Smith, PhD, noted that one-third of the MY PART cohort identifies as nonwhite; compared to the MGI population, the MY PART cohort has twice the proportion of Hispanic participants; and the average MY PART participant is substantially younger than the average MGI participant.

To attract more diverse participants, and partly in response to COVID-19, Precision Health has used innovative recruitment and engagement methods for MY PART, including a participant tracking dashboard to help recruiters identify potential participants; remote, electronic recruitment through the MyDataHelps University of Michigan app; and collection of DNA samples via “spit kits” returned in the mail. MyDataHelps can also link to outside electronic health records, so that recruitment is not limited to Michigan Medicine patients. In 2022, MY PART began an initiative to focus on recruiting participants from the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) population, which has historically been dramatically underrepresented in medical and public health research studies.

At the MGI 10th Anniversary Symposium, Smith, an associate professor of epidemiology, detailed these efforts. “In Metro Detroit, we have one of the largest, most visible, Arab and MENA communities in the U.S.,” she noted, “so we wanted to really work with that community and make it a part of Precision Health.” To develop this recruitment initiative, the Cohort Development group have worked with researchers at and outside U-M, including researcher Kristine J. Ajrouch, PhD—a professor at Eastern Michigan University and an adjunct research professor at U-M’s Survey Research Center—whose work focuses on the Arab American population. The MY PART research team began by adding questions to the MY PART survey that were relevant to

the MENA population. They then established a partnership with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in Dearborn, with MY PART recruiters regularly onsite at the center. Other efforts underway include:

  • Engaging with Arab American and/or Public Health student groups at U-M Dearborn/other universities
  • Partnering with health care professionals at U-M and other hospital systems and clinics
  • Forging a new partnership with the Arab American Health Initiative (AAHI)
  • Launching email and social media recruitment efforts
  • Developing a grant proposal on cardiovascular disease in the MENA population

With the ongoing efforts listed above, the MY PART team hopes to cultivate “a great partnership with this population, which is so underrepresented in research,” said Smith.