Clinical trials make medical advancements and innovations possible, and volunteers play an essential role in the success of those clinical trials. Every year, tens of thousands of clinical trials take place as medical experts work to better understand, prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases and illnesses.
Participating in a clinical trial can be an empowering and beneficial experience. People of all ages, genders, and health profiles are eligible to volunteer in different clinical trials. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
What Is a Clinical Trial?
A clinical trial is a type of research study that tests the outcomes of new medical treatments and devices. Every clinical trial is unique, but each falls into one of the following categories:
- Natural history trials, which provide information about how diseases progress
- Prevention trials, which study how to best prevent diseases from developing or occurring
- Screening trials, which study the best ways to detect health conditions
- Diagnostic trials, which aim to improve the methods used to diagnose diseases
- Quality of life studies, which seek to improve quality of life for chronic disease patients
- Treatment trials, which test new treatments, such as drugs, surgery, and medical devices
In most cases, volunteers are recruited to participate in treatment trials to test new drugs seeking FDA approval. Each clinical trial occurs in four phases. Different types of volunteers may be needed in each phase.
- Phase 1 trials study a small number of healthy volunteers (less than 100) to learn more about the drug’s safety and side effects
- Phase 2 trials study up to 300 patient volunteers with the disease or health condition being studied
- Phase 3 trials study hundreds or thousands of volunteers with the disease or health condition being studied, some of whom receive the test drug and some of whom receive a placebo or standard treatment
- Phase 4 trials don’t involve new volunteers; researchers track the safety of the drug or treatment after the FDA has approved it
What Every Volunteer Should Know
As a volunteer, you make it possible for researchers to successfully complete a new phase of their clinical trial and potentially improve medical care for future generations. You may even receive life-saving treatment of a new drug before it’s available to the public.
Since clinical trials involve the use of drugs and treatments not yet approved by the FDA, it’s important for all volunteers to make an informed decision before participating. Here are the most important points to know:
- Review all informational documents so that you can give informed consent. Pay close attention to the key facts of the study so that you can decide if volunteering is the right choice for you. Signing the informed consent form shows that you understand the conditions of the study, but you can still withdraw from the study at any time if it becomes necessary.
- Weigh the risks and benefits of the study. Every clinical trial study team is required to list all known risks, benefits, and available alternative health care options to volunteers.
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Clinical researchers take every measure to help volunteers stay safe and comfortable, and they’re available to answer any questions you may have.
How Can I Begin Volunteering For a Clinical Trial?
There are many different ways to volunteer for a clinical trial. Start by checking with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their Clinical Center Search the Studies website is a registry of publicly supported clinical studies seeking volunteers. To date, more than 500,000 volunteers from around the world have participated in clinical research supported by the NIH.
You can also contact hospitals and universities in your area for information regarding current and upcoming clinical trials. Medical universities and research hospitals frequently perform their own clinical trials and seek volunteers from surrounding areas.