Clinical trials are the best way to improve our understanding of medicine. A clinical trial is a research study that involves human volunteers. Clinical trials are designed to find new ways to prevent, discover, and treat diseases that harm people.
Every medicine and vaccine that we use was once a clinical trial. So many lives have been saved by penicillin, the smallpox vaccine, and immunotherapies (treatments that use substances to boost or slow down the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases). These treatments were later approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Clinical trials date back to 1747 when a British physician gave sailors on board a long sea voyage a combination of orange and lemon juice to see if it would help cure scurvy - a disease that we now know is caused by a lack of Vitamin C.
Clinical trials are usually carried out in humans after laboratory and animal testing show that a treatment is promising. The trials move through a series of steps and have plans to balance potential risks with benefits.
The number of clinical trials being done in the United States and around the world is higher than it has ever been. Despite efforts by pharmaceutical companies and public health agencies to teach people about the potential benefits of clinical trials and recruit volunteers, public awareness and participation (especially among women, children, and people of color) remain low.
People participate in clinical trials for many reasons, including to play an active role in their healthcare, to help others by contributing to medical research, to get access to treatments before they are widely available; and to get medical care they might not normally receive. Most people who take part in a clinical trial say they would take part in another one in the future.
May 20 is International Clinical Trials Day, a time to recognize the people who conduct clinical trials and to thank them for what they do to improve public health. This day of celebration also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of clinical trials and of clinical research as a career option.
At Hypothesis Haven Science Club, our mission is to provide early exposure to clinical research careers and teach children and their families how doctors and scientists discover, treat and cure diseases that harm people.