Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Trials


  • What is a Clinical Trial?
    A clinical trial is a research study to answer specific questions about vaccines, new therapies or new ways of using known treatments. Clinical trials (also called medical research and research studies) are used to determine whether new drugs or treatments are both safe and effective. Carefully conducted clinical trials are the fastest and safest way to find treatments that work in people.
  • Why participate in a clinical trial?
    Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available and help others by contributing to medical research.
  • Who can participate in a clinical trial?
    All clinical trials have guidelines about who can participate. Using inclusion/exclusion criteria is an important principle of medical research that helps to produce reliable results. The factors that allow someone to participate in a clinical trial are called “inclusion criteria” and those that disallow someone from participating are called “exclusion criteria”. These criteria are based on such factors as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history and other medical conditions. Before joining a clinical trial, a participant must qualify for the study. Some research studies seek participants with illnesses or conditions to be studied in the clinical trial, while others need healthy participants. It is important to note that inclusion and exclusion criteria are not used to reject people personally. Instead, the criteria are used to identify appropriate participants and keep them safe. The criteria help ensure that researchers will be able to answer the questions they plan to study.
  • What happens during a clinical trial?
    The clinical trial process depends on the kind of trial being conducted. Most of the trials done at the VCU Mood Disorders Institute are treatment studies, meaning that new treatments, approaches or new combinations of drugs are tested. The clinical trial team includes doctors and nurses as well as other health care professionals. They check the health of the participant at the beginning of the trial, give specific instructions for participating in the trial, monitor the participant carefully during the trial and stay in touch after the trial is completed.

    Some clinical trials involve more tests and doctor visits than the participant would normally have for an illness or condition. For all types of trials, the participant works with a research team. Clinical trial participation is most successful when the study protocol is carefully followed and there is frequent contact with the research staff.
  • What is informed consent?
    Informed consent is the process of learning the key facts about a clinical trial before deciding whether or not to participate. It is also a continuing process throughout the study to provide information for participants. To help someone decide whether or not to participate, the doctors and nurses involved in the trial explain the details of the study. Then the research team provides an informed consent document that includes details about the study, such as its purpose, duration, required procedures and key contacts. Risks and potential benefits are explained in the informed consent document. The participant then decides whether or not to sign the document. Informed consent is not a contract, and the participant may withdraw from the trial at any time.
  • How is the safety of the participant protected?
    The ethical and legal codes that govern medical practice also apply to clinical trials. In addition, most clinical research is federally regulated with built in safeguards to protect the participants. The trial follows a carefully controlled protocol, a study plan which details what researchers will do in the study. As a clinical trial progresses, researchers report the results of the trial at scientific meetings, to medical journals, and to various government agencies. Individual participants’ names will remain secret and will not be mentioned in these reports.

    Every clinical trial in the U.S. must be approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to make sure the risks are as low as possible and are worth any potential benefits. An IRB is an independent committee of physicians, statisticians, community advocates and others that ensures that a clinical trial is ethical and the rights of study participants are protected. All institutions that conduct or support biomedical research involving people must, by federal regulation, have an IRB that initially approves and periodically reviews the research.
  • Can a participant leave a clinical trial after it has begun?
    Yes. A participant can leave a clinical trial, at any time. When withdrawing from the trial, the participant should let the research team know about it, and the reasons for leaving the study.
  • Learn more about clinical trials at Virginia Commonwealth University at www.clinicaltrials.vcu.edu.

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