Understanding Clinical Trials – Part 1: What are Clinical Trials?

What is a Clinical Trial

WATCH Winship at Emory patient and clinical trial participant, Holly Johnston, discuss her decision to enroll in a cancer clinical trial.

Clinical trials are an essential part of moving research forward and most medical advances have been made possible because of volunteer participation in clinical trials.

At Emory Healthcare, clinical trials are at the core of our mission where discovery and research fuel exceptional patient-and-family-centered care. But for many people, clinical studies seem complicated and intimidating. To answer some popular questions about clinical trials and clear up common misunderstandings, we are launching a six-part series on understanding clinical trials and why they are an important part of patient care.

What are clinical trials?

A clinical trial is a form of research that uses human volunteers (called participants) to answer specific questions that help doctors understand new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases.

Existing treatments today may not be effective for everyone, so clinical trials help determine if new drugs, diagnostics or procedures are safe and effective before they are made widely available. There are different types of clinical trials, but all start with a question. An example question would be “does the dose of this drug impact its effectiveness?” A well-designed clinical trial is set up to provide answers to the original question.

What happens during a clinical trial?

Every clinical trial is led by a principal investigator, who is usually a medical doctor, and they typically have a research team including doctors, nurses, social workers and other members of the care team. New treatment therapies are usually tested in three separate phases before regulatory agencies consider them safe and effective.

During a clinical trial, data is collected to help inform the study outcome, which can be positive or negative. Either way, a clinical study is successful if the answer to the initial question is clear and has a solid foundation of scientific data to support it. Even if the outcome is different than the principal investigator’s hypothesis, the end result informs which direction the research team should take next.

Clinical Trials at Emory

There are more than 1,000 clinical trials underway at Emory Healthcare and the outcomes are not only making a difference in people’s lives here and now, but for generations to come.

As we continue our blog series on understanding clinical trials, we want to know what questions you have about clinical trials and clinical research. Leave your questions in the comments field below and your question may just get answered by an Emory researcher!

Also, click to see a list of frequently asked questions about clinical trials.

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