Researcher worried about blacks' health
Scientist promoting student interest in biomedical careers

By Ann Schrader

Denver Post Medical/Science Writer

Patrick Allen is as passionate about raising awareness of health in the black community as he is about his research into the mysteries of HIV.

"The black community really suffers from the brunt of a lot of health problems," the University of Colorado molecular biologist said Monday in talking with students at Denver's Montbello High School.

Hypertension, sickle-cell anemia, certain can- cers and AIDS strike.inoro often among blacks than whites, said Allen, who has a $1.2 million Na- tional Institutes of Health grant to define HIV's structure and search for ways to inhibit the deadly virus.

The AIDS epidemic has, bit an increasingly dis- proportionate share of blacks, but less than I per- cent of U.S. biomedical researchers are black, the CU research associate said.

Colorado's latest figures show that nearly 16 percent of the state's HIV infections are among blacks. Among active AIDS cases throughout the epidemic, more than 10 percent of Colorado's cases have been black people.

"The most likely person to be infected today (in the United States) is a black woman 18 to 25 years old," Allen said. Allen believes he is the only black molecular biologist with an NIH grant given to a principal investigator. He and CU colleague Larry Gold hold a 1997 patent for creating specific RNA binding sites to inhibit HIV.

With few black researchers and few black participants in drug re- search, there needs to be a cultural shift so the black community gets involved in, biomedicine, Allen said. A history of fear and suspi- cion in the black community to- ward the biomedical establishment is adding to a major public health problem, he said.

About two years ago, Allen be- gan the Black Biomedical Re- search Movement as a way to get more black people into research and experimental drug studies, and to raise the consciousness of policy makers.

"It's important to get involved in the studies because researchers don't have access to certain types of people" such as blacks and women, Allen said.

The Montbello students don't have to be molecular biologists "to support black health conscious- ness '" Allen said. "We need to do as much as we can in the next 30 to 40 years. The more we talk about it, the more it can make an impact on kids born now."

Allen, an NCAA All-American wrestler before injuring a knee and refocusing his efforts on his educa. tion, urged the students not to be intimidated about asking questions of teachers.

"It's a matter of asking questions and making it happen," he said. "Persistence. Focus. Take it one step at a time."

Monday's presentation by Allen is the third CU outreach effort in Denver's secondary schools in the last year. Astrophysicist Larry Esposito and archaeologist Steve Lekson also have talked about their work and encouraged students to consider entering scientific fields.