Clinical trials and medical Research studies
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. ClinicalTrials.gov 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 are defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Note: Some people who are not eligible to participate in a clinical trial may be able to get experimental drugs or devices outside of a clinical trial through an Expanded Access Program. See .
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.
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The CRA's Guide to Monitoring Clinical Research, Third Edition