Internal Medicine employee recognized for clinical trial recruitment efforts

By Cory Lukens

One of the biggest international clinical trials in history is getting a big boost from UT Southwestern Medical Center. The office of state Sen. Royce West of Dallas recently recognized Patricia Knowles, Research Study Coordinator of Internal Medicine, for her outstanding community outreach in recruiting participants for the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) study.

Patricia Knowles received honors from both the state and leaders of the ASPREE trial for strong recruitment efforts.
Patricia Knowles received honors from both the state and leaders of the ASPREE trial for strong recruitment efforts.

Additionally, study leaders hosted an Olympic-themed challenge to see which of the multicenter sites could recruit the most trial participants within six months. Because of the efforts of Ms. Knowles, ASPREE local investigator, and the ASPREE team that includes Dr. Shawna Nesbitt, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and local principal investigator, and Jamil Waters, Clinical Data Specialist, UTSW tied for second out of 31 sites in the U.S. and Australia, winning a silver medal.

“I just love helping people and giving back,” Ms. Knowles said. “I’m being just as fulfilled as they are.”

The ASPREE trial, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation, is examining whether taking a daily low-dose aspirin helps to prevent dementia or preserve cognitive function for those age 65 and older. The study also aims to establish whether the benefits of ongoing aspirin usage outweigh risks, such as bleeding.

Since the clinical trial started two and a half years ago, Ms. Knowles has been working to further distinguish Dallas as a major recruiting site, especially for minority participants.

She said she targets churches, social organizations, senior facilities, and health fairs, adding that a strong visual presence in the community makes a difference. She shies away from mass mailings, choosing instead to carry educational materials in her purse. “I’m on my job 24/7,” she said.

Despite the long hours, Ms. Knowles said she receives satisfaction in return. “I’m learning so much from the study participants. Their problems are no more unique than ours,” she said.

But resistance to trial participation remains a challenge. That reluctance, along with fear and doubt, can stand in the way of her recruiting. “I’m dealing with the older population who come from a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mindset,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to recruitment is the current high use of aspirin among older adults. Since aspirin is considered a cure-all drug, doctors already have many patients on a preventive aspirin regimen. Study participants could be assigned to a group blindly taking a placebo.

Ms. Knowles’ job is far from over, since trial participants are tracked for six years. That entails follow-up calls and appointments, cognitive testing, and data entry. But through it all, Ms. Knowles still finds time to focus on customer care, even sending out Christmas and birthday cards to ASPREE study participants. “They have become our friends. And I think they appreciate that,” she said.