A recent study revealed a dearth of African-American HIV/AIDS researchers and connected the shortage to historical and social factors that keep potential researchers from entering the field, Medical News Today reports.

African Americans currently make up 49 percent of new HIV cases in the United States, and nearly 500,000 are HIV positive.

According to the article, barriers stand in the way. Within the medical and science fields, African Americans are rarely exposed to mentoring, research training and the ways in which research teams form and work together. On an individual level, African-American students lack role models, which might lead to negative thoughts about their ability to excel in the career.

The best way to break down these barriers is to make individuals a part of the solution and not the problem, said lead author Gail Wyatt, MD, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at University of California in Los Angeles. “We need African-American experts who are at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention,” Wyatt added.

The authors of the study recommend steps that universities, other institutions of higher learning and private and government funders of research and training can take to increase the amount of African-American HIV/AIDS researchers.

For example, they could provide mentors for graduate students and professional training programs, as well as invest in research that encourages collaborations with traditionally African-American and minority-serving institutions. “HIV/AIDS research conducted by highly trained African Americans should be the norm and not the exception,” stated the authors of the study.