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Scientists team with community mentors to boost research in underserved areas

New initiative has helped a faculty member hone her studies on Latinos with multiple sclerosis

Lilyana Amezcua talks to a patient about multiple sclerosis. (Photo/courtesy of National MS Society)

The Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute has launched a community mentorship initiative to connect young clinicians with seasoned health care professionals in the Los Angeles region. The move addresses an emphasis by the National Institutes of Health on improved health and research in underserved populations.

SC CTSI KL2 scholar Lilyana Amezcua, assistant professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is among the program’s early participants. A specialist in multiple sclerosis, she studies the role of race and ethnicity, with a focus on Latinos.

Amezcua was paired with Mercy Willard, senior director of community development and outreach for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The pair worked well together, and over time the individuals became more like colleagues than mentor and mentee, according to Amezcua.

The needs of Latinos

Willard and Amezcua recruited MS patients from faith-based groups and throughout LA’s Latino community to take part in her research on the use of promotoras — laypeople trained to provide education about health issues.

Partly because MS is less common among Latinos, fewer educational materials have been designed for their particular needs — an issue Amezcua hopes to address through her research.

“The Latino MS community has long felt ignored and wasn’t necessarily eager to join a research project, but together we have been able to bring people together,” Amezcua said.

At the same time, Amezcua helped the National MS Society sharpen the medical and scientific details of materials the group developed for research and education, Willard said.

“This is the first time we have worked with a USC faculty researcher in this way,” Willard said. “Because of her background in the science, Lilyana was able to help us develop educational materials geared toward laypeople to include much deeper understanding of the science and medical information about MS. Now we’ll be able to share these materials with patient groups across the country.”

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Scientists team with community mentors to boost research in underserved areas

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