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Learn About Becoming a Participant in a Clinical Trial

What is clinical research?

Clinical research is a way for doctors and scientists to answer questions about healthcare. Research can find better ways to prevent, diagnose or treat diseases and disorders. There are many kinds of clinical research. For example, some studies test new medicines or devices. Other studies use interviews to learn about health problems.

What is a clinical trial?

Drugs and medical devices must be proven safe and effective in people before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve them for general use. A clinical trial is a study that tests a drug or medical device to see if it is safe and effective for treating people. The government has strict rules for clinical trials. These rules help to ensure that study participants are safe.

What types of study participants are needed?

Many types of people are needed to participate in research studies. Some studies need healthy persons. Other studies need persons with certain health problems. Persons of all ages and from all ethnic groups are needed. Why do people participate in research studies?

Every study is different, and the reasons people participate are different. Some reasons people take part in a study are:

  • To help others
  • To possibly improve their own health
  • To help advance science
  • To gain access to treatments before they become widely available
  • To access treatment options that might not be available outside of the research
What are the risks of participating in a clinical trial?

The risks for each study are different. Some possible risks of taking part in a research study are:

  • The experimental treatment may not be as good as or better than the standard treatment.
  • If an experimental treatment is better than the standard treatment, it may not work for everyone.
  • New drugs and treatments may have side effects that are unknown to the researchers.
How are study participants protected ?

  • The Federal government has rules to protect study participants.
  • All research studies in the United States must be approved and monitored by a group of people called an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is made up of scientists, doctors and community people. They review studies to help make sure that study participants will be as safe as possible.
  • Participants must be given complete information about the research study. They must also give their informed consent before taking part in the study.

What is informed consent? Before taking part in a study, each participant will receive a consent form that contains important written information about the study. It is important to read and understand the information in this form. The researcher or member of the research team will also talk to the person about the information contained in the form. The person should be sure all of his or her questions are answered before signing the consent form. A signed consent form is not a contract -a participant can leave a study at any time.

These methods of protection do not eliminate all possibility of risk. But they do help to ensure study participants will be as safe as possible. 

What questions should I ask before deciding to participate in a research study?

Before you decide to participate, you should ask as many questions as you need to in order to be sure you understand the study. Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • What is the purpose of the study?
  • Why am I being asked to take part in this study?
  • Who is paying for the study?
  • Who is doing the study and what are their qualifications?
  • Where is the study being done?
  • What kinds of tests or procedures will be done as part of this study?
  • How will the treatment, tests or procedures differ from those I would receive if I did not participate in the study?
  • How long will the study last?
  • How will my safety be monitored?
  • How will my privacy be protected?
  • What are the risks, side effects and/or discomforts of this study?
  • What are the possible benefits?
  • What are the results of any previous studies performed?
  • What are the alternative treatments and how effective are they?
  • Will I have to pay for any part of the study?
  • What expenses will my insurance carrier cover?
  • What happens if I am harmed by the study?
  • Is there follow up care available after the study?
  • Who do I contact if I have questions related to this study?