Everything you need to know about clinical trial participation
Clinical trials are constantly looking to recruit more patients for their studies. You may have seen advertisements asking, “do you suffer from (insert common medical condition here)? Would you like to participate in a research study to evaluate a new treatment?.” However, many people are left in the dark regarding what is involved in clinical trial participation. So, here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking about participating in a clinical trial.
Firstly, it’s important that your expectations of clinical trial participation align with the reality of the experience. Clinical trials aren’t a magic fix, and there are often many unknown variables involved. However, for those who have exhausted standard treatments for their condition, clinical trials often turn out to be a successful alternative. It’s important to note that clinical trial treatments are not necessarily personally beneficial, but you will be helping to advance medical research on a wider scale. People who fall into this category often participate at higher rates than volunteers who have other treatment options. Even healthy volunteers can participate.
If you decide to participate in a clinical trial, you will undergo a process called informed consent, which is designed to impartially explain the risks and benefits of being a subject in a specific study. It was designed to ensure that participants were not being exploited or made to participate against their will and is overseen by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is an independent committee that doubly ensures the study is performed in a way that protects the rights and welfare of the participants.
Another common misconception is that once you’ve signed up and consented to participate, you cannot withdraw from the study. This is not the case, you can withdraw at any time if you decide that you no longer wish to participate.
There can also be different formats of clinical trials, and the way in which they are conducted varies from study to study. This means that the way participants are allocated into research groups may be different from study to study. Here are the three main examples of how a clinical trial might be conducted:
1. Controlled Trials
In a controlled trial, participants are divided into groups before the trial begins. If you are in what is known as the ‘trial’ or ‘intervention’ group, you may be given the new treatment that is being tested. If you are allocated to what is known as the ‘control’ group, you may be given an existing treatment, no treatment, or a placebo treatment.
2. Randomized Trial
In a randomized trial, you will be allocated to treatment groups at random, usually with the help of a computer program. This is done to minimize doctor or patient influence on the trial results.
3. Blind Trial
You also might participate in a blind trial, in which researchers won’t tell you which group you’re in – which means you might be receiving either the new treatment or the control, but you won’t know which. (To prevent you from guessing which treatment you’re getting, the treatments are made to look as similar as possible.) Researchers design blind trials because sometimes when participants know what treatment they are getting, it can influence how they feel or report their symptoms.
Remember, the more participants that a study can recruit, the more conclusive and reliable the results of the study will be. Even if you don’t think you’ll be eligible to participate in a clinical trial, it’s worth a try to apply: many studies need people from different demographic groups.