- What Is a Clinical Study?
- Clinical Trials
- Observational Studies
- Who Conducts Clinical Studies?
- Where Are Clinical Studies Conducted?
- How Long Do Clinical Studies Last?
- Reasons for Conducting Clinical Studies
- Participating in Clinical Studies
- Who Can Participate in a Clinical Study?
- How Are Participants Protected?
- Informed Consent
- Relationship to Usual Health Care
- Considerations for Participation
- Questions to Ask
Learn About Clinical Studies
What Is a Clinical Study?
A clinical study involves research using human volunteers (also called participants) that is intended to add to medical knowledge. There are two main types of clinical studies: clinical trials and observational studies. NCTR.NHREC.net includes both interventional and observational studies.
In a clinical trial (also called an interventional study), participants receive specific interventions according to the research plan or protocol created by the investigators. These interventions may be medical products, such as drugs or devices; procedures; or changes to participants' behavior, for example, diet. Clinical trials may compare a new medical approach to a standard one that is already available or to a placebo that contains no active ingredients or to no intervention. Some clinical trials compare interventions that are already available to each other. When a new product or approach is being studied, it is not usually known whether it will be helpful, harmful, or no different than available alternatives (including no intervention). The investigators try to determine the safety and efficacy of the intervention by measuring certain outcomes in the participants. For example, investigators may give a drug or treatment to participants who have high blood pressure to see whether their blood pressure decreases.
Clinical trials used in drug development are sometimes described by phase. These phases are defined by the NAFDAC GCP Guidelines.
In an observational study, investigators assess health outcomes in groups of participants according to a protocol or research plan. Participants may receive interventions, which can include medical products, such as drugs or devices, or procedures as part of their routine medical care, but participants are not assigned to specific interventions by the investigator (as in a clinical trial). For example, investigators may observe a group of older adults to learn more about the effects of different lifestyles on cardiac health.
Who Conducts Clinical Studies?
Every clinical study is led by a principal investigator, who is often a medical doctor. Clinical studies also have a research team that may include doctors, nurses, social workers, and other health care professionals.
Clinical studies can be sponsored, or funded, by pharmaceutical companies, academic medical centers, voluntary groups, and other organizations, in addition to both local and international Government Agencies. Doctors, health care providers, and other individuals can also sponsor clinical research.
Where Are Clinical Studies Conducted?
Clinical studies can take place in many locations, including hospitals, universities, doctors' offices, and community clinics. The location depends on who is conducting the study.
How Long Do Clinical Studies Last?
The length of a clinical study varies, depending on what is being studied. Participants are told how long the study will last before enrolling.
Reasons for Conducting Clinical Studies
In general, clinical studies are designed to add to medical knowledge related to the treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of diseases or conditions. Some common reasons for conducting clinical studies include:
- Evaluating one or more interventions (for example, drugs, medical devices, approaches to surgery or radiation therapy) for treating a disease, syndrome, or condition
- Finding ways to prevent the initial development or recurrence of a disease or condition. These can include medicines, vaccines, or lifestyle changes, among other approaches.
- Evaluating one or more interventions aimed at identifying or diagnosing a particular disease or condition
- Examining methods for identifying a condition or risk factors for that condition
- Exploring and measuring ways to improve the comfort and quality of life of people with a chronic illness through supportive care
Participating in Clinical Studies
A clinical study is conducted according to a research plan known as the protocol. The protocol is designed to answer specific research questions as well as safeguard the health of participants. It contains the following information:
- The reason for conducting the study
- Who may participate in the study (the eligibility criteria)
- The number of participants needed
- The schedule of tests, procedures, or drugs and their dosages
- The length of the study
- What information will be gathered about the participants
Who Can Participate in a Clinical Study?
Clinical studies have standards outlining who can participate, called eligibility criteria, which are listed in the protocol. Some research studies seek participants who have the illnesses or conditions that will be studied. Other studies are looking for healthy participants. And some studies are limited to a predetermined group of people who are asked by researchers to enroll.
Eligibility. The factors that allow someone to participate in a clinical study are called inclusion criteria, and the factors that disqualify someone from participating are called exclusion criteria. These are based on things such as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions.
How Are Participants Protected?
Review and approval by an independent Health Research Ethics Committee. All clinical research studies must be reviewed and approved by an independent health research ethics committee (HREC) that is also registered by the National Health Research Ethics Committee (NHREC) of Nigeria. The HREC must also monitor the study to ensure that it is implemented according to the terms and conditions of the approval. An HREC is made up of Doctors, a mix of other health care professionals, Muslim and Christian clerics, lawyers and community representatives. Its role is to make sure that the study is being conducted in ways that respects cultural and religious values as well as promote and ensure that the rights and welfare of participants are protected. This includes making sure that research risks are minimized and are reasonable in relation to any potential benefits, among other things.
In addition to being monitored by an HREC some clinical studies are also monitored by data monitoring committees (also called data safety and monitoring boards).
The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), also has as part of its primary mandate, the authority and responsibility of ensuring that sponsors/investigators of certain clinical studies are adequately protecting research participants. In clinical trials, NAFDAC ensures safety of the study through primary review of all trial documents before approval and registration for commencement; and also monitors the safety of the trial before commencement, at various stages of the trial and after the completion of the trial. It ONLY when NAFDAC is assured that a given clinical trial is safe and are satisfied with arrangements to protect participants that such a trial can commence. As part of this, NAFDAC ensures that before it reviews applications for clinical trials, such trials have been approved by an HREC that is duly registered and authorized to review the type of trial being proposed by NHREC.
Informed consent is a process in which researchers provide potential and enrolled participants with information about a clinical study. This information helps people decide whether they want to enroll, or continue to participate, in the study. The informed consent process is intended to protect participants and should provide enough information for a person to understand the risks of, potential benefits of, and alternatives to the study. In addition to the informed consent document, the process may involve recruitment materials, verbal instructions, question-and-answer sessions, and activities to measure participant understanding. In general, a person must sign an informed consent document before entering a study to show that he or she was given information on risks, potential benefits, and alternatives and understands it. Signing the document and providing consent is not a contract. Participants may withdraw from a study at any time, even if the study is not over. See Questions to Ask a health care provider or researcher about participating in a clinical study.
Relationship to Usual Health Care
Typically participants continue to see their usual health care providers while enrolled in a clinical study. While most clinical studies provide participants with medical products or interventions related to the illness or condition being studied, they do not provide extended or complete health care. By having the participant's usual health care provider work with the research team, the participant can make sure that the study protocol will not conflict with other medications or treatments being received.
Considerations for Participation
Participating in a clinical study contributes to medical knowledge. The results of these studies can make a difference in the care of future patients by providing information about the benefits and risks of therapeutic, preventative, or diagnostic products or interventions.
Clinical trials provide the basis for the development and marketing of new drugs, biological products, and medical devices. Sometimes, the safety and the effectiveness of the experimental approach or use may not be fully known at the time of the trial. Some trials may provide participants with the prospect of receiving direct medical benefits, while others do not. Most trials involve some risk of harm or injury to the participant, although it may not be more than the risks related to routine medical care or disease progression. (For trials approved by HRECs, the HREC has decided that the risks of participation have been minimized and are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits.) Many trials require participants to undergo additional procedures, tests, and assessments based on the study protocol. These will be described in the informed consent document for a particular trial. A potential participant should also discuss these issues with members of the research team and with his or her usual health care provider.
Questions to Ask
Anyone interested in participating in a clinical study should know as much as possible about the study and feel comfortable asking the research team questions about the study, the related procedures, and any expenses. The following questions might be helpful during such a discussion. Answers to some of these questions are provided in the informed consent document. Many of these questions are specific to clinical trials, but some also apply to observational studies.
- What is being studied?
- Why do researchers believe the intervention being tested might be effective? Why might it not be effective? Has it been tested before?
- What are the possible interventions that I might receive during the trial?
- How will it be determined which interventions I receive (for example, by chance)?
- Who will know which intervention I receive during the trial? Will I know? Will members of the research team know?
- How do the possible risks, side effects, and benefits of this trial compare with those of my current treatment?
- What will I have to do?
- What tests and procedures are involved?
- How often will I have to visit the hospital or clinic?
- Will hospitalization be required?
- How long will the study last?
- Who will pay for my participation?
- Will I be reimbursed for other expenses?
- What type of long-term follow-up care is part of this trial?
- If I benefit from the intervention, will I be allowed to continue receiving it after the trial ends?
- Will results of the study be provided to me?
- Who will oversee my medical care while I am in the trial?
- What are my options if I am injured during the study?