A clinical trial is a research study to determine if a particular treatment or medical strategy is safe and effective for the general population. These research studies occur in several phases before any new drug or treatment plan is available for public use. Trials can last for a period of months, or extend over many years. For some individuals, participation in a clinical trial is a way to make sense of a chronic illness or disease by personally contributing to medical science. Others are willing to accept the possible risks of a trial in exchange for the benefits of receiving the latest treatments with experts in the field of medicine, long before they are available to the general population.
In the United States alone, there are thousands of clinical trials studying everything from nutrition to heart disease. Georgetown University, for example, has just announced a new clinical trial that will investigate if daily use of the nicotine patch might improve memory and thinking, especially in those with early dementia symptoms. This study will utilize 300 older adult volunteers and will last for two years. Most trials recruit both healthy volunteers, as well as those who are personally impacted by the condition being studied.
Where can you find information on clinical trials? The on-line site, www.clinicaltrials.gov, provides a list of medical studies occurring both nationwide and around the world. The site lists over 900 clinical trials on heart disease, 2,000 studies related to the immune system, and more than 500 related to various forms of dementia. There are many options.
Another site related specifically to dementia research is called “Trial Match” and is offered through the Alzheimer’s Association. Trial Match links individuals with specific research studies that would best meet their needs and location. You can find Trial Match by going on-line to www.alz.org/trialmatch. The site will ask you to answer a few questions in order to find the clinical trial that is best for you.
When looking for a clinical trial, it is important to consider the risks and benefits of the study in which you hope to participate. Some important questions to ask include:
- What is the purpose of this study?
- What are the expectations of the volunteers?
- How long will this clinical trial last?
- Must I commit to the entire duration of the study?
- What are the long and short-term risks?
- What organization oversees this clinical trial?
- What is the source of funding?
Be sure to discuss your thoughts about a clinical trial with your family physician. Your doctor will know if it is best for you participate. Clinical trials can provide new and helpful treatments, as well as additional medical attention for the patient. Just be sure to ask all the right questions and know if you are able to fully commit to the study.