Taking part in clinical trials

A clinical trial is a research program conducted with patients to evaluate a new medical treatment, drug or device. The purpose of clinical trials is to find new and improved methods of treating different diseases and special conditions.

Clinical trials make it possible to apply the latest scientific and technological advances to patient care. During a clinical trial, doctors use the best available treatment as a standard to evaluate new treatments.

The new treatments are considered to be at least as effective or possibly more effective than the standard.

New treatment options are first researched in the lab where they are carefully studied in the test tube and in laboratory animals. Only the treatments most likely to work are further evaluated in a small group of people prior to applying them in a larger clinical trial.

When a new medical treatment is studied for the first time in people, it is not known exactly how it will work. As with any new treatment, there are possible risks as well as benefits. Clinical trials help doctors determine if the treatment:

  • is safe and effective
  • is potentially better than the treatments currently available
  • causes side effects
  • carries potential risks

Clinical trials are conducted in phases, each designed to find out specific information. Each new phase of a clinical trial builds on information from previous phases.

In the first phase, the new treatment is given to a small number of participants. The researchers determine the best way to give the new treatment and how it can be given safely.

Phase two determines the effect of an experimental treatment on the particular disease or condition being evaluated. The best dosage is usually determined during this phase.

Phase three trials usually compare the new treatment with existing treatments, while phase four trials apply the new treatment to general patient care.

The advantages of participating in a clinical trial include:

  • You may receive a new treatment before it is widely available to the public.
  • You can provide researchers with the information they need to continue developing new procedures and introducing new treatments.
  • Most of the treatment expenses will be paid for by the company or agency sponsoring the study.

The disadvantages are the risks and side effects of the treatment being researched. Participants will be informed of any possible side effects that are already known, as well as any ‘new’ side effects that might occur during the trial.

Keep in mind that participating in a clinical trial is voluntary. Even though your doctor may advise you to take part in a clinical trial, it is up to you to make the ultimate decision.

Have you ever taken part in a clinical trial? What was your experience like? Would you recommend it to a friend?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Ben


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