Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Trials

Explore our comprehensive FAQ guide about clinical trials, offering insights into their purpose, process, and significance in medical research. Ideal for patients, caregivers, and those interested in understanding this vital facet of healthcare.

Robert Maxwell Jul 28, 2023
By Naheed Ali, MD, PhD & Robert Maxwell

Diving into the realm of clinical trials can sometimes be tricky, and you may come across a language that seems foreign. These clinical trials are essential cornerstones that pave the way forward in medicine. They bring us invaluable knowledge and open the door to potential treatments for various illnesses. If you're thinking about taking part in a clinical trial or if you're just curious about the whole thing, getting a grip on the key phrases and concepts can be incredibly useful. 

Here, we'll unravel 25 commonly asked questions about clinical trials. This is intended to remove the mystery from the process and give you an idea of what's involved. Whether you are a participant, a caregiver, or just someone fascinated by the topic, we hope these answers will prove beneficial to you.

  1. What is a clinical trial?

    A clinical trial is a study that helps us determine if new drugs, treatments, or devices work and are safe for humans. It's a vital part of turning scientific discoveries into actual treatments that we can use. Without clinical trials, we wouldn't be able to advance medicine and patient care  [1].

  2. Who can participate in clinical trials?

    It really depends on the specific study and who can participate in clinical trials. Things like age, gender, the type and stage of your disease, your past treatment history, and other health conditions can all play a part. Every trial has a list of criteria that determines who can and can't join.

  3. What are the phases of a clinical trial?

    Typically, a clinical trial has four different stages or phases, and each phase has a unique aim. For instance:

    Phase I: primarily looks at safety and dosage
    Phase II: tests for efficacy
    Phase III: seeks to confirm this effectiveness and keep an eye on side effects
    Phase IV: involves studies that happen after the treatment has been marketed.

    All of these phases are critical in verifying that the treatment is both safe and effective [2].

  4. What is a placebo?

    A placebo is basically an inactive pill or treatment that doesn't have any real therapeutic effects. It looks just like the actual medication or treatment that's being studied. In clinical trials, it's used as a comparison tool to help researchers figure out if the treatment they're testing is really working and that any positive results aren't just because of outside factors or people's expectations.

  5. What is a control group?

    The term "control group" in a clinical trial refers to the group of people who get the placebo or an existing standard treatment. This group serves as a comparison point to the group getting the new treatment under investigation. It's their job to help scientists understand if the new treatment actually has an effect and how effective it is compared to the standard or no treatment.

  6. What is 'informed consent'?

    Informed consent is a process that guarantees that the participants of a trial understand the potential gains, risks, alternatives, and responsibilities that come along with a clinical trial. 

  7. Can I leave a clinical trial after it's started?

    Yes, you can leave a clinical trial whenever you want and for whatever reason. If you're experiencing side effects, if you feel the trial isn't helping, or if the commitment feels too overwhelming, you're free to withdraw.

  8. What are the benefits of participating in a clinical trial?

    As for the benefits of participating in a clinical trial, they can vary for different people. Some may gain access to new treatments before they are widely available to the public. Also, they are contributing to medical advancements that could help future patients. [3].

  9. What are the risks of participating in a clinical trial?

    Joining a clinical trial also has its risks. You could experience side effects from a treatment that may not even work for you. Also, the commitment of time can be significant, and some trials might even require hospital stays or complex treatment schedules [4].

  10. What is a 'double-blind' trial?

    In a 'double-blind' trial, both the participants and the researchers don't know who's getting the actual treatment and who's getting the placebo. This is done to avoid any bias when interpreting the results. It's considered the gold standard in clinical trials because it provides the most reliable results.

  11. What is 'randomization' in clinical trials?

    'Randomization' in clinical trials refers to a process where participants are randomly allocated to either the treatment group or the control group. This is done to avoid any bias and make sure the two groups are alike in every aspect except the treatment they're receiving.

  12. What is an 'observational study'?

    An 'observational study' is a kind of research where the researchers just observe the participants or measure certain outcomes. No treatment is given or manipulated in these studies. They are commonly used to identify patterns and relationships, but they can't determine cause-and-effect relationships.

  13. What is a 'protocol' in a clinical trial?

    A detailed plan known as the clinical trial protocol is used to define the aims, structure, and approaches of the study. It specifies the eligible participants. Included is the timetable for tests, procedures, treatments, and study duration.

  14. Who sponsors clinical trials?

    Clinical trials can be sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, or government bodies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Non-profit organizations or patient advocacy groups also sponsor some trials. Meeting regulatory requirements and ensuring the safety and ethical treatment of participants are the responsibilities of these sponsors.

  15. What is an 'investigational drug'?

    An investigational drug is a pharmaceutical product being tested for safety and effectiveness in humans. For general use, regulatory authorities have yet to approve it. The study of these drugs primarily revolves around their development stage for better comprehension of their benefits and risks.

  16. What does 'off-label use' mean?

    Off-label use refers to prescribing drugs for a purpose, age group, dose, or form that the regulatory authorities haven't approved. Patients must comprehend the implications, as prescribing medications off-label is generally within the legal scope of doctors.

  17. Are clinical trials free?

    In most cases, the sponsor is responsible for covering the costs of the experimental medication, tests, and monitoring during a clinical trial. However, participants may sometimes need to cover some costs, like travel or accommodation, depending on the specific trial. Always inquire about any potential costs before signing up for a clinical trial.

  18. What is an 'adverse event'?

    An adverse event in a clinical trial refers to any undesirable participant experience, whether or not it's related to the experimental treatment. Adverse events can range from minor side effects to serious health complications and are closely monitored during the trial.

  19. What are 'endpoints' in a clinical trial?

    Endpoints are the outcomes researchers measure to determine whether a treatment works. For instance, in a cancer trial, an endpoint might be the number of patients whose tumors shrink by a certain percentage. These endpoints provide objective measures for evaluating the treatment's effectiveness.

  20. What is a 'biomarker'?

    A biomarker is a biological molecule found in tissues, bodily fluids, or blood that serves as a marker for a condition, disease, or normal or abnormal process. Clinical trials frequently employ biomarkers to gauge the effectiveness of the medicine.

  21. How is patient safety ensured during a clinical trial?

    Safety measures in clinical trials include careful eligibility screening, constant health monitoring, and the ability for participants to leave the study at any time. In order to ensure participant safety, an independent ethics committee also reviews the trial protocol [5].

  22. Who oversees the ethical conduct of clinical trials?

    Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) or Ethics Committees are usually responsible for overseeing the ethical conduct of clinical trials. They review and approve the study protocol, monitor the trial's progress, and ensure compliance with ethical standards [6].

  23. What is a 'data monitoring committee'?

    A Data Monitoring Committee (DMC) is a group of independent experts who keep an eye on patient safety and treatment efficacy data while a clinical trial is going on. Their job is to make sure the trial is fair and protect the rights of the people taking part [7].

  24. What is 'compassionate use'?

    Compassionate use is a pathway for patients to access investigational drugs outside of clinical trials when no satisfactory alternatives are available. This often applies to seriously ill patients who have exhausted all other treatment options.

  25. Can I find out the results of a clinical trial?

    Yes, the results of clinical trials are often published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. You can also find results on clinical trial registries. It's important for transparency and continued scientific progress that results, whether positive or negative, are made publicly available.

Whether you're a patient looking for new treatment options, a healthy volunteer wishing to contribute to scientific discovery, or a caregiver seeking alternatives for a loved one, ClinConnect is the perfect place to start your search. With comprehensive resources and expert support, we're committed to helping you find the right clinical trial that aligns with your needs and preferences. Join us in the pursuit of advancing medical science and improving patient care worldwide.

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