Want to Be Part of the Future?
Nothing happens slowly anymore, and it seems especially true in science. When one question is answered, it raises hundreds more, and our knowledge is now increasing exponentially. With breakthroughs now coming along on an almost regular basis, there is an increased opportunity to get in on the clinical trials for some important new drugs.
First Things First
The first thing to do, of course, if you're considering volunteering for a clinical trial, is to discuss this with your physician. This is a serious commitment and may have important health consequences for you. If you both determine that this is a good option for you, your next step is to check out what's available. A good place to start is the Web site provided by the National Institutes of Health:
How the Process Works
Researchers look for two kinds of people for their trials: people with the condition they're researching and people who are healthy. The first group is called the treatment group, because this group receives a treatment or a drug. The second group is called the control group. This group doesn't receive the treatment or the drug, but receives a placebo instead. This provides a method of comparison, or control, so the researcher can measure the effectiveness of the treatment or drug. You won't be told what group you'll be in. Doing so would defeat the purpose!
Narrowing the Candidates
Once you've found a study that you'd like to join, you'll have to qualify for it. Depending upon the nature of the study, researchers will be interested in working with specific age groups, specific gender groups, and people with specific stages of the disease or condition. If you have a comorbid condition, you may or may not be eligible for the study. Also, your previous treatment history may be a determining factor in whether or not you are accepted into the study.
It is vitally important that you disclose all of your physical information to the review team for the study. You don't know how your own medical condition may be affected by the treatment or drug given during the study. Full disclosure is necessary to protect your health as well as maintain the integrity of the research!
The Good Parts
Time for a cost/benefit analysis! Participating in a clinical trial can get you access to important, new medications before they come on the market. Especially with depression, the sense of personal control that you'll experience can help relieve your symptoms. Also, you'll have access to experts in the health care field every step of the way and you'll be contributing to the pool of knowledge. These are the good things.
The Possibly Not-So-Good Parts
Somewhere around the neutral line separating good from bad is the possibility that the drug or treatment won't do anything — that it's ineffective. If you are in the control group, you will not receive any immediate benefit from the drug if it's proven to be successful, but you will benefit when it becomes available. Across that line, there are some real risks that you'll need to consider. If you are in the treatment group, perhaps the treatment will be uncomfortable. It may take more of your time than you are willing to commit to. And, there may be serious side effects. Some side effects can be life-threatening. Think carefully and get all the information you can before you commit.
The researchers won't be able to inform you of the possible side effects of the drug you'll be taking. That's the purpose of the study — to determine if there are any side effects and how severe they will be.
Who Is Monitoring the Study?
An Institutional Review Board (IRB), made up of physicians, members of the community, and other professionals, will ensure that your rights are protected and that the study complies with federal rules and regulations. The law requires that personal risk be kept to an acceptable minimum and that any risks are outweighed by the potential benefits of the study.
What If I Change My Mind?
You can leave a study at any time you wish. Don't just stop the study, however. Tell the researchers why you are leaving the study, as this can help them possibly revise procedures to make the experience easier.