The Purpose of Clinical Trials

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  • 00:00 Clinical Trials
  • 1:34 How Does a Clinical…
  • 2:01 Earliest Stages of a…
  • 3:05 Human Participants in…
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Clinical trials are used to assess the safety and effectiveness of new treatment options. This lesson will discuss the purpose of clinical trials and will end with a short quiz to see what you have learned.

Clinical Trials

Turn on the television, and you will see countless advertisements for medications for every possible problem under the sun. Have you ever wondered how we know which medicines or treatments are effective for the specific problem we may be facing? If you have the flu, you probably do not need a cream to control itching. Similarly, if you have an itchy rash, cough syrup certainly won't stop you from scratching, will it? Well, clinical trials are used to figure out how a given treatment works, what types of problems it may help with, and how safe it is to use.

Clinical trials are used in countless fields ranging from health care to social science. Accordingly, they may be used to test out new medications, procedures, treatments, or behavioral modifications, among many other things. Clinical trials are most often conducted by experienced and knowledgeable researchers who administer new treatment options to participants in a controlled pattern. Clinical trials can take place anywhere, but laboratories, universities, and hospitals are among the most common locations for carrying out a clinical trial. It is common for clinical trials to be funded by an outside organization because they can be very expensive and time-consuming. In most cases, formal approval must be obtained before beginning a clinical trial through an organization like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How Does a Clinical Trial Work?

Long before a clinical trial ever begins, researchers have spent countless hours developing and testing potential treatments. However, researchers rely on clinical trials to see if the potential treatment works the way they think it will in humans. They also need clinical trials to figure out if the new treatment is safe. So how do researchers move from product development into a clinical trial?

Earliest Stages of a Clinical Trial

Usually, researchers rely on animals in the earliest phases of testing. This is because experimenting on humans is not permitted until there is some level of confidence regarding the safety of the potential treatment.

Let's say that you created a serum in your kitchen made up of several different chemicals. You are convinced that this serum will be a miracle drug that cures just about any problem someone could be facing. Would it be a good idea to test this serum out on your friends without knowing what might happen? Of course not!

It is the same with researchers and product developers. They cannot try out new and unknown treatments on anyone without some layer of pre-testing to determine risks. This is why most researchers use animals for the earliest stages of clinical trials. However, we can't always assume that a given treatment will work the same in humans as it does in animals, can we? This leads us to human participants.

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