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What is a Clinical Trial Volunteer?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 17, 2024
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A clinical trial volunteer is a person who agrees to participate, on a voluntary basis, in the trial of a new medical treatment, process, or procedure. The fields of medicine, psychology, and other health sciences require volunteers to test the effectiveness of treatment protocols. Volunteers are often compensated, either with monetary compensation or by getting to try a new experimental drug or treatment methodology.

Before a drug is approved by the FDA, it must undergo clinical trials. During these trials, a group of people are provided with the experimental treatment. Another group is provided with a placebo.

By the time a drug makes it to the clinical trial state, extensive preliminary testing has normally been conducted. Unfortunately, lab testing, and testing on animals is not sufficient to determine whether a drug will be effective on humans or not. These clinical trials, and each clinical trial volunteer who participates in them, play an important role in evaluating whether a drug treatment is or is not effective.

The results of the placebo group are compared with the results achieved by those who are given the experimental drug. Side effects are also compared. This data is compiled, analyzed, and presented to the FDA before a drug can achieve general approval.

Psychology methods and other such treatment methods also make use of volunteers to test new treatment methods. Therefore, a clinical trial volunteer will not always be subject to drug therapy. Still, testing new drugs is one of the most common situations that a clinical trial volunteer will participate in.

A clinical trial volunteer will generally have all of his or her expenses paid during the trial. This usually includes additional expenses such as medical treatment for side effects of the drug. Payment or compensation methods vary dramatically depending on what is tested, however, and in some cases the only compensation may be the opportunity to try a new potentially helpful drug.

Volunteers who agree to participate in medical testing are carefully monitored. Their progress is tracked and reported. They may also be required to see company physicians during the testing.

A clinical volunteer is generally not aware of whether he or she is in the placebo group, or whether he is actually receiving the treatment. Still, before beginning the process, volunteers must be made aware of all potential risks and side effects. They then must give informed consent.

Those with life threatening illnesses often volunteer for clinical trials so they can receive experimental new treatments. Cancer patients are common examples of people who participate in clinical trials. The hope is that these experimental treatments will work when others have failed.

Some volunteers have no medical problems at all, or have mild conditions. These volunteers usually agree to act as test subjects in order to receive monetary compensation. FDA strictly regulates human testing, however, so these and other volunteers must be carefully monitored, and an extensive safety protocol must be followed.

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