Clinical Research

Clinical research, also known as clinical studies, is at the heart of all medical advances; and volunteer participants are essential to clinical studies.

People with an illness or disease sometimes join a clinical trial to receive an experimental treatment or to have additional medical care and attention offered by clinical staff. But many participants also say they volunteer to benefit others such as a friend or family member in the future.

Proven Results, Driven from Study.

Our medical care is better today because of what clinical studies uncovered years ago. A physician-researcher at NIH credits clinical trial volunteers for helping to transform AIDS from being a certain death sentence into a treatable, chronic (long-term) disease.

All clinical studies have guidelines about who can participate. Patient volunteers may be selected based on the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions. The selection or inclusion criteria help to ensure that researchers are studying the right people to help find answers to important medical questions.

Clinical researchers often look for people of different ethnicities, races, ages, and sexes. They want to have adequate representation from a variety of people, so they can make sure that they develop appropriate treatments. Some disorders affect certain groups of people more than others, so it’s especially important to have clinical research volunteers from the at-risk or affected population.

Researchers found that medications are metabolized differently based on age, sex or even ethnicity. Having a variety of volunteers allows researchers to determine the proper treatments and doses for different types of people.

If you’re thinking about participating in a clinical trial, members of the research team will talk with you about the details of the study; this is called informed consent. They will give you a document to sign that includes an overview of the study, such as its purpose, length, procedures, and who to contact for more information. The research team will also explain the risks and potential benefits of the study. Volunteers should feel free to ask as many questions as they need to make things clear. If you decide to sign the informed consent form, you are still free to withdraw from the study at any time, even after it begins. Informed consent is not a contract; its purpose is to make sure that you know enough about the study to decide whether to participate.

Clinical study participants are protected by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Before the study even starts, IRB reviews the clinical research and makes a judgment about whether the risks are acceptable, and whether the benefits of doing the research justify the risks.

We all benefit when people step up and volunteer to participate in clinical research studies. Talk with your health care provider about clinical trials and whether participation is right for you. To learn more about participating in clinical trials, including personal stories of research volunteers, visit NIH’s Clinical Research Trials and You website.