What are clinical trials?
Clinical trials are medical research studies that require patient participation and aim to answer medical questions, usually concerning a new treatment for a particular disease or syndrome. This can take the form of a new drug, surgical technique or medical device, either alone or in combination with an existing treatment.
There are multiple phases to these clinical trials that have to be completed before a drug is licensed for use.
Clinical trials can also investigate how genetics or environmental factors can increase the risk of developing a given condition or new screening, diagnostic or preventative methods. In addition, clinical trials can also be observational, and aim to collect information about the symptoms and medical problems people with a particular disease have. This sort of trial is particularly useful for rare diseases, where not much is known about the disease.
What is the aim of a clinical trial?
Clinical trials test whether a new treatment or procedure is better than those currently available to patients. This involves examining the safety of the new therapy, the side effects, efficacy and overall effect on quality of life
Not all clinical trials are successful, at least in terms of identifying a new therapeutic strategy. Some may show that the new treatment being tested does not work as well as other currently available treatments, or that the combination of certain drugs does not make a difference to being treated with a single drug. However, this knowledge is extremely valuable to researchers and clinicians, and ultimately patients, as it helps direct new lines of research and the development of new strategies for treatment.
How can I take part in clinical trials?
Recruitment and access to clinical trials will vary greatly depending on the type of study, the phase of the trial, where the trial is located and where you are located. Clinical trials for rare diseases are often complicated by the small populations affected and as such, it can be difficult to recruit enough volunteers. The most common way of entering a clinical trial is to be referred by your doctor. Therefore, if you find a trial you are interested in joining, you should talk this through with your doctor, especially as clinical trials are not without a degree of risk. Please do bear in mind that eligibility for clinical trials is generally quite strict, so even if you would like to participate in a trial, it may not always be possible.
Last Updated: July 2021
Review date: July 2024