What is a Clinical Study? - Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Clinical studies help scientists and medical professionals discover and test new treatments. Learn more about the definition, importance and process of clinical studies and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition

In 1537, Ambroise Paré was treating soldiers injured in battle. He knew that pouring boiling oil onto a wound would prevent infection, but he didn't have enough oil for all of the soldiers. He mixed together egg yolks, rose oil, and turpentine then applied it to some of the soldiers' wounds. The next day, he found that the new mixture worked as well as the boiling oil, without the side effects of burns and pain that the oil produced. Paré's discovery was made through the use of a clinical study.

Ambroise Pare
Photo of Ambroise Paré

A clinical study is a scientific examination of how a treatment for an illness or mental disorder works in humans.

Importance of Clinical Studies

Clinical studies (also called clinical trials) help scientists and doctors discover the best treatment for an illness or disorder. Imagine that Paré hadn't done a clinical trial of his concoction: we might still be pouring boiling oil on patients today!

In addition to helping scientists figure out what treatment works best, clinical studies help them find out the side effects of a treatment. Drugs are often tested on animals first. However, animals might not suffer from the same side effects that humans do. Clinical trials will help scientists discover important (and sometimes deadly) side effects.

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