Clinical research is the study of health and illness in people. It is the way we learn how to prevent, diagnose and treat illness. Clinical research describes many different elements of scientific investigation. Simply put, it involves human participants and helps translate basic research (done in labs) into new treatments and information to benefit patients. Clinical trials as well as research in epidemiology, physiology and pathophysiology, health services, education, outcomes and mental health can all fall under the clinical research umbrella.
A clinical trial is a type of clinical research study. A clinical trial is an experiment designed to answer specific questions about possible new treatments or new ways of using existing (known) treatments. Clinical trials are done to determine whether new drugs or treatments are safe and effective. Clinical trials are part of a long, careful process which may take many years to complete. First, doctors study a new treatment in the lab. Then they often study the treatment in animals. If a new treatment shows promise, doctors then test the treatment in people via a clinical trial.
People often confuse a clinical research or clinical trials with medical care. This topic can be especially confusing if your doctor is also the researcher. When you receive medical care from your own doctor, he or she develops a plan of care just for you. When you take part in a clinical research study, you and the researcher must follow a set plan called the “study protocol.” The researcher usually can’t adjust the plan for you – but the plan includes steps to follow if you aren’t doing well. It’s important to understand that a clinical trial is an experiment. By its nature, that means the answer to the research question is still unknown. You might or might not benefit directly by participating in a clinical research study. It is important to talk about this topic with your doctor/the researcher.