Clinical research is a key part of evaluating new drugs or surgical techniques.  In the UK a range of organisations take part in drug trials and other forms of testing.  Some trials are lab based or use research to establish how effective existing medical treatments are.  In other cases clinical trials involve direct testing on patients and members of the public to establish how beneficial new treatments are.  In the UK the results of the research are sent to the Medicines and Healthcare products Agency (MHRA). Clinical testing is subject to strict safeguards to ensure that individuals taking part in testing are properly protected.

Who Undertakes Research Studies?

Testing and trials are undertaken by a huge range of public and private bodies in the UK. NHS trusts and University Hospitals are all involved in different types of trials and different trusts and universities specialise in different fields of healthcare and testing.  Many surgeons and specialists also oversee trials of new techniques and may be able to offer patients the opportunity to take part in a new method of surgery.  In addition major drug companies all offer trials and there are a number of private companies dedicated to important clinical research, see MAC clinical research (who specialise in memory related research) as an example.  Charities like Cancer Research also have strong research arms. In all cases, the aim of clinical research is to improve the quality and the results achieved by medical treatments, care and procedures.  Modern medicine has come a long way in the last hundred years, but there is still much that is unknown and research can help to ‘join the dots’ or improve existing treatments.

Can I Take Part?

Volunteering for clinical trials is possible for most people of any age or background.  For those with an existing illness or condition the options are fairly broad. You can express an interest in taking part in a clinical trial through your doctor or specialist. However, clinical trials available vary around the country and not every medical professional will be aware of every trial. For some specific conditions private clinics – see researchforyou.co.uk offer trials in specific medical areas. Given the wide range and scope of trials being undertaken at any time it’s likely that there will be a trial available – although it may not be in your own area.

What are the Benefits?

The most significant benefit when taking part in a clinical trial is the access it offers to the latest treatments. Treatments reaching this stage of testing will already have proven themselves as having some major benefits over existing treatments. This can be an attractive reason for many people to become involved in a trial.

Thanks to the nature of trials, monitoring of both the treatment and your condition is likely to be more intense than in standard treatment. This means that any issues are identified quickly and also that the results and effectiveness of the treatment are also closely monitored.

Any Issues to be Aware of?

While a benefit, the need for close monitoring in trials is sometimes a downside for some people.  You may not be able to join a trial in the area in which you live and this may mean a need for more travel. It is likely that you’ll need more appointments at a clinic, even if this is close to home, than would be the case if you received standard treatment.

Side effects are a big concern for those deciding whether to join a trial. All treatments (licensed or otherwise) will have side effects. However, one important function of a trial is to establish the full extent of these. Some side effects can occur that have not been anticipated. However, researchers will provide information on what to expect and how to report unexpected results before you sign up.

Will I be allowed to take part? 

This will depend on the ‘design’ of the trial and factors that may affect your option to join a trial can include; your age, the stage of your disease/condition, your gender, other treatment you may receive and the numbers of people required for the study.  In addition some studies may require healthy people rather than those with a specific condition. In most cases you’ll find an initial enquiry to the organisation running the trial will be enough to establish if you are suitable to join.

Next Steps

For many people, a clinical trial can offer an alternative, potentially more effective treatment than those currently available. At the same time, trials are attractive to many individuals simply because they offer the chance to improve medical knowledge and help others, in the future, with conditions like their own.  For more information, speak to your local GP or your consultant in the first instance and also check out some of the links in this post!

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One Comment

  1. Tony Jewell says:

    Useful article. Clinical research is a key component for high quality care and should be welcomed in the NHS. Linked to teaching this contributes to a learning environment and patients should be encouraged to co-operate and get involved. With electronic IT communications there is a huge potential for patients and the public to consent to share basic information and be prepared to be approached to collaborate in clinical trials. The BioBank scheme which engaged thousands of people, prepared to share their genetic data and clinical biometrics sets the scene for a much greater two- way engagement with NHS teaching and research. Titmus’s “gift relationship” in voluntary blood donation can be extended into a sense of democratic engagement and citizen responsibility with public service R&D with ethical safeguards in place.
    Tony Jewell

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