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Are Canadians Too Busy to Participate in Medical Research?

Prominent researcher at St. Michael’s unable to get volunteers to test new diets for diabetics

Toronto, May 19, 2010

One of Canada’s leading nutrition researchers is having trouble recruiting volunteers for clinical trials and wonders whether people in big cities such as Toronto are just too busy to participate in medical research.

Dr. David Jenkins, the St. Michael’s Hospital researcher who developed the glycemic index, needs 400 people with type 2 (adult onset) diabetes to test whether certain diets can prevent complications such as heart and kidney disease. So far he has fewer than 70 volunteers.

“As cities become more fast-paced and more noisy in terms of the happenings of life, volunteerism goes by the wayside, even when it’s a personal health issue,” said Dr. Jenkins, director of the Risk Modification Centre at St. Michael’s.

“People have less time. They spend most of their time on the Don Valley Parkway making their way home. They don’t feel they wish to give up any further time.”

The main barrier to research is generally finding money, not volunteers, but Dr. Jenkins said he is hearing stories similar to his from colleagues around the world. He said that while it has sometimes been difficult to recruit volunteers during his 30-year career in clinical trials, “this is the first time in my life I feel, well, are you going to have to give up?”

Dr. Jenkins said he was worried he might have to return his $1.75 million grant to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a similar amount to the Canola Council of Canada.

Declining numbers of volunteers for clinical trials could be a “looming disaster” for medical research and evidence-based medicine, Dr. Jenkins said.

“It will put medicine back to where it was 50 years ago when gray-haired physicians would say, “In my experience’,” he said. “The quality of this experience may indeed be high but one is also left with uncertainty.”

Volunteers are needed for three studies. Participants in two short-term studies will be randomly assigned one of two diets for three months: a high-fibre diet with whole grain products or a low-glycemic index diet of foods that release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, including lentils, beans, temperate-climate fruits such as apples, oranges and berries, and whole-grain bread enriched with canola oil (a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids).

The goal is to compare how each diet affects blood glucose levels. These are the first studies to investigate the role of canola oil and beans in diabetes management.

A longer-term study involves 160 patients with arterial damage who will be followed for three years to see whether the diets can prevent or treat heart or kidney disease in diabetics. MRIs will be used for the first time to assess arterial disease.

How can people volunteer?

Volunteers must:

  • live in the Toronto area
  • be in good health
  • take tablets for diabetes (excluding insulin)
  • want to improve their blood sugar levels through diet modification

There are no age, gender or other demographic restrictions. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age – and is becoming more common in children because of obesity – but is most often seen in people over 45.

Call the Diabetes Research Group at 416-867-7474.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who walk through its doors. The Hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research at St. Michael’s Hospital is recognized and put into practice around the world. Founded in 1892, the Hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media Contacts

For more information, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Media Relations
St. Michael's Hospital
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca