Clinical Trials Overview
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Treatments might be new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Clinical trials can also look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.
People participate in clinical trials for a variety of reasons. Healthy volunteers say they participate to help others and to contribute to moving science forward. Participants with an illness or disease also participate to help others, but also to possibly receive the newest treatment and to have the additional care and attention from the clinical trial staff.
Clinical trials offer hope for many people and an opportunity to help researchers find better treatments for others in the future.
The most common questions about clinical trials are below or you may speak now to a Study Information Specialist to find out more directly at 1-833-33-TRIALS (833-338-7425).
Frequently asked questions about clinical trials:
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Clinical research is medical research that involves people like you. When you volunteer to take part in clinical research, you help doctors and researchers learn more about disease and improve health care for people in the future. Clinical research includes all research that involves people. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Clinical trials can study:
- New drugs or new combinations of drugs
- New ways of doing surgery
- New medical devices
- New ways to use existing treatments
- New ways to change behaviors to improve health
- New ways to improve the quality of life for people with acute or chronic illnesses.
The goal of clinical trials is to determine if these treatment, prevention, and behavior approaches are safe and effective. People take part in clinical trials for many reasons. Healthy volunteers say they take part to help others and to contribute to moving science forward. People with an illness or disease also take part to help others, but also to possibly receive the newest treatment and to have added (or extra) care and attention from the clinical trial staff. Clinical trials offer hope for many people and a chance to help researchers find better treatments for others in the future.
How does clinical research make a difference to me and my family?
Only through clinical research can we gain insights and answers about the safety and effectiveness of treatments and procedures. Groundbreaking scientific advances in the present and the past were possible only because of participation of volunteers, both healthy and those with an illness, in clinical research. Clinical research requires complex and rigorous testing in collaboration with communities that are affected by the disease. As research opens new doors to finding ways to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease and disability, clinical trial participation is essential to help us find the answers.
Who takes part in clinical trials?
Many different types of people take part in clinical trials. Some are healthy, while others may have illnesses. Research procedures with healthy volunteers are designed to develop new knowledge, not to provide direct benefit to those taking part. Healthy volunteers have always played an important role in research.
Healthy volunteers are needed for several reasons. When developing a new technique, such as a blood test or imaging device, healthy volunteers help define the limits of “normal.” These volunteers are the baseline against which patient groups are compared and are often matched to patients on factors such as age, gender, or family relationship. They receive the same tests, procedures, or drugs the patient group receives. Researchers learn about the disease process by comparing the patient group to the healthy volunteers.
Factors like how much of your time is needed, discomfort you may feel, or risk involved depends on the trial. While some require minimal amounts of time and effort, other studies may require a major commitment of your time and effort, and may involve some discomfort. The research procedure(s) may also carry some risk. The informed consent process for healthy volunteers includes a detailed discussion of the study’s procedures and tests and their risks.
A patient volunteer has a known health problem and takes part in research to better understand, diagnose, or treat that disease or condition. Research with a patient volunteer helps develop new knowledge. Depending on the stage of knowledge about the disease or condition, these procedures may or may not benefit the study participants.
Patients may volunteer for studies similar to those in which healthy volunteers take part. These studies involve drugs, devices, or treatments designed to prevent,or treat disease. Although these studies may provide direct benefit to patient volunteers, the main aim is to prove, by scientific means, the effects and limitations of the experimental treatment. Therefore, some patient groups may serve as a baseline for comparison by not taking the test drug, or by receiving test doses of the drug large enough only to show that it is present, but not at a level that can treat the condition.
Researchers follow clinical trials guidelines when deciding who can participate, in a study. These guidelines are called Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria. Factors that allow you to take part in a clinical trial are called “inclusion criteria.” Those that exclude or prevent participation are “exclusion criteria.” These criteria are based on factors such as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, treatment history, and other medical conditions. Before joining a clinical trial, you must provide information that allows the research team to determine whether or not you can take part in the study safely. Some research studies seek participants with illnesses or conditions to be studied in the clinical trial, while others need healthy volunteers. Inclusion and exclusion criteria are not used to reject people personally. Instead, the criteria are used to identify appropriate participants and keep them safe, and to help ensure that researchers can find new information they need.
What is informed consent?
Informed consent is the process of providing you with key information about a research study before you decide whether to accept the offer to take part. The process of informed consent continues throughout the study. To help you decide whether to take part, members of the research team explain the details of the study. If you do not understand English, a translator or interpreter may be provided. The research team provides an informed consent document that includes details about the study, such as its purpose, how long it’s expected to last, tests or procedures that will be done as part of the research, and who to contact for further information. The informed consent document also explains risks and potential benefits. You can then decide whether to sign the document. Taking part in a clinical trial is voluntary and you can leave the study at any time.
What is an Institutional Review Board?
Clinical trials are approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure that the risks are reduced and are outweighed by potential benefits. IRBs are committees that are responsible for reviewing research in order to protect the rights and safety of people who take part in research, both before the research starts and as it proceeds.