USC researchers offer financial aid to increase participation in clinical trials

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Researchers depend on a wide variety of people signing up for clinical trials, so they can get the most diverse results. But participating in research can be time-consuming and costly.

That's why the USC Norris Cancer Center is launching a new effort to help potential patients by giving them financial assistance.

When 40-year-old Clara Salas was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer last March, her only thoughts were for her four children.

"My one son is 12. He has autism," she said. "And my other son, he is 14. So, I was like thinking about my kids you know what's going to happen to them," she said.

Taking time out for surgery and chemo took its toll financially.

"I went homeless because I couldn't go to work. I lost my apartment," Salas said.

So when researchers asked her participate in a clinical trial for radiation, Salas wasn't sure she could afford the cost of getting to the hospital for treatment.

"There are many barriers to enrolling patients in clinical trials, not the least of which are physical and financial," said Dr. Darcy Spicer, chief of medical oncology at USC Norris Cancer Center. He enrolled Salas in the Impact Trial. In this study, eligible cancer patients are reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.

"As scientists we need to collect information to see what impact it's having and how can we do it better," said Spicer.

Financial reimbursement depends on household income, but expenses that are covered include transportation, lodging and even air fare.

"It really is very individualized to the need of that specific patient," Spicer said.

The Lazarex Foundation provides the funding. In a three-year pilot study, enrollment improved by 29% overall and doubled specifically among underrepresented minorities.

Researchers need more diversity in clinical trials.

"Nationally, it's about 5%," said Spicer.

So far Salas has underwent chemo, surgery and radiation. Her cancer is stable and the payments are helping her get through.

"After a month they sent me a check. A check from where? I didn't work. I didn't do nothing," Salas said.

She and her kids now have a place to live and she's grateful to have access to life-saving research.
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