What Should I Know About Participating in a Clinical Trial?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Participating in a clinical trial is a great way to directly contribute to medical research and potentially to access new and innovative medical treatments, but there are some things to consider before signing up for a clinical trial. One of the most important things to realize about clinical trials is that they are held for the purpose of research and gathering information, not for the goal of treating patients. While people in a clinical trial are given excellent medical care, the relationship between patients and trial administrators is very different from the relationship between patients and doctors.

A clinical trial is used to test a drug, therapy, or treatment approach. Clinical trials are held in stages, with each stage getting progressively larger. They usually begin in the laboratory, with basic tests to make sure that the treatment being tested is safe, and then a small number of patients who meet a very specific profile are asked to participate in the first stage, in which researchers learn about how the treatment works with real people. As each stage concludes, a larger stage begins to test more diverse patients, until the researchers are satisfied that the treatment is safe and effective, at which point the drug will be submitted to a government agency for approval.


The clear benefit to participating in a clinical trial is that you may be able to access a treatment before it is released to the general public. However, you may be in a control group taking a placebo, or you may be given a low dosage of a medication to test effectiveness thresholds, so participation does not guarantee that you will receive the treatment. And, once the trial ends, you may not be allowed to continue using the treatment, so if the treatment if effective, you may end up being cut off in the end.

There are also some serious risks, like side effects which have not been identified yet, or the need to discontinue other medications, including over the counter drugs like aspirin, to ensure that they do not conflict with the treatment being tested. Participation in a clinical trial also requires a time commitment, and you may need to submit to invasive medical tests, frequent exams, and interviews on a regular basis. While any tests will be paid for by the researchers, they can still be uncomfortable, dangerous, or time-consuming.

Many clinical trials offer compensation to participants. You may be compensated for travel costs, or paid for your time. Others do not offer compensation, so if this is important to you, you should check. In some regions of the world, there are strict rules about compensation to avoid conflicts of interest or situations in which people sign up for clinical trials to make money.

If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial after you have considered the benefits and risks, you can find information about open clinical trials through your doctor, government agencies, and drug companies. You may want to be aware that most clinical trials enroll patients who meet a very specific set of criteria. If, for example, you enroll in a clinical trial for a new Hepatitis C drug, you may be excluded if you have a heart condition, because your heart condition could complicate your response to the medication.

If you identify a clinical trial which looks interesting, contact the company administering the trial for more information. Make sure to ask for an interview before the trial begins so that you can talk with a researcher about what is being tested, the potential risks, and the amount of time you will need to dedicate to the trial. You should also read the trial materials carefully to ensure that you understand everything that is involved.



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