Patrick Allen - an activist for black biomedical research

By Caroline Ramig

senior, English

University of Colorado at Boulder Research Associate Patrick Allen continued the Chancellor's Community Lecture Series with his presentation "Scientist Turns Activist: The Black Biomedical Research Movement," Jan. 7.

Allen has spent much of his 10-year career at CU-Boulder attempting to define the structure of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He leads a team that has been awarded more than $1.2 million by the National Institutes of Health to search for inhibitors to target specific proteins.

The Jamaica-born Allen has achieved renown not only in the area of AIDS research, but activism as well.

One of Allen's biggest concerns is that although AIDS in the nation's black community has evolved into a full-blown epidemic, fewer than 1 percent of U.S. biomedical researchers are black.

"When HIV first emerged around 1983, it was thought to be a disease that only affected homosexuals and hemophiliacs. It wasn't until 1996 that I learned that blacks infected with HIV and AIDS outnumbered all other infected groups," Allen said.

Allen has devoted his efforts to increase awareness about black health by educating and encouraging the black community to become more involved in its own healthcare. He has also initiated programs to encourage black high school students to pursue medical careers.

Several years ago, Allen began to concentrate on spearheading a new organization called the Black Biomed-ical Research Movement designed to involve more blacks in biomedical research.

"This is not about affirmative action, religion, politics or racism," Allen said. "In its simplest form, this is a scientific outreach program, with the black community being the primary target group."

The ultimate goal of the organization is to promote black health consciousness among people of all ages nationwide, Allen said. With donations from private foundations, federal health institutes and nonprofit medical institutes, Allen plans to increase awareness through a series of fairs geared towards black health issues in major cities with large black populations, including New York City, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

The disparity between the overall health of the black and white communities is caused in part by social, cultural and economic differences as well as a historical mistrust of the biomedical community, Allen said.

"The fear and suspicion in the black community of the biomedical establishment is a major public health problem that reaches beyond disease," said Allen.

His goal is to enlist famous role models, like black athletes and musicians, to address the black community about the importance of educating themselves about HIV, AIDS, hypertension, sickle-cell anemia and certain types of cancer that occur in high rates among black populations.

"Ideally, I would like to see black people make the same kind of progress that women have made in participating in research affecting their own health," Allen said. "But it may take 50 years for a change like that to happen."