Clinical research offers hope for many people, because it helps us find better treatments. Clinical trials are the core of all medical breakthroughs, and volunteer participants are the most important part of any study.
Many people don't consider the process behind how the drug they buy at the local pharmacy, or the medical procedure they undergo at their hospital were discovered. Every medical treatment, whether it be a pill, diagnostic test, or surgical procedure, originated from research. These breakthrough innovations start with the ideas from scientists, and over the span of years, move through the different stages of developing a new treatment.
How does participating in clinical research studies help me and others?
Before a treatment can be approved for everyday use and made accessible to most patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that a potential therapy’s safety and efficacy be widely evaluated in a large group of human volunteers. These studies, called clinical trials, are the last stage in the clinical research process before a treatment, such as a new drug, can be made available to patients.
Some examples of discoveries that have come from clinical research are:
- New treatments for conditions such as Crohn's Disease, cancer, and heart disease.
- Diagnostic tests, CT Scans, X-ray machines, and MRIs.
- More effective ways to exercise, and prevent the development of various diseases.
There are two types of clinical research - clinical trials, and observational studies. While clinical trials directly evaluate the impact of a specific treatment on a disease, observational studies follow a patient’s health condition and medical history to learn how it might be treated without introducing a new therapy. Everyone benefits when individuals volunteer to participate in clinical research studies.
Common reasons for participating in a clinical trial include:
- Playing a more active role in your own health
- Gaining access to cutting-edge, newly developed treatments before they become widely available
- Helping others by contributing to medical breakthroughs.
Note: The most important thing to keep in mind is that participation in a trial is always voluntary. Even after enrolling, patients have the right to leave the study at any time.
Doctors often look for people of different ethnicities, races, ages, and sexes, so that there can be representation from a variety of backgrounds. Some conditions affect certain groups of people more than others, and there have also been cases where certain populations handle the drug differently, so it’s especially important to have diverse set of participants.
Although for patients, most clinical trials usually last for a few weeks or months, for scientists, the research process can continue on for years before a new therapy becomes widely available. After a study is completed, the information is shared with the medical community around the world. The results help doctors provide better, more informed care to their patients, and can help them discover new ways to study a condition.
Unfortunately, clinical trials can (and often do) fail because not enough people volunteer to participate, which increases the time it takes for new treatments to become available. That’s why volunteers who participate in trials play an extremely important role in allowing new treatments to reach patients.
The importance of clinical trials to the advancement of medical innovation cannot be overstated. Clinical trials bring together scientists, patients, and industry in a collaboration that can improve the medical treatments available to patients, and lead to breakthroughs.