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How to Enroll in a Clinical Trial

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Every year, millions of people enroll in thousands of clinical trials conducted around the world. These research studies are crucial to evaluating the effectiveness and safety of new medical procedures and medications. Maybe you’ve heard the results of various clinical trials in the news and wondered how people are recruited for these studies — or even how you can enroll in one yourself.

Understanding your clinical trial options

Clinical trials aren’t just for people hoping to find a cure for their particular illness or medical malady. Whether you’re young or old, sick or well, male or female, if you’d like to advance the cause of healthier living, one of these five kinds of clinical trials might be right for you:

  • Diagnostic: Enroll in this type of trial and you’ll help researchers create more effective ways of identifying a certain type of disease.

  • Prevention: Perhaps you’ve watched a close friend or family member struggle with a particular illness and you want to do what you can to find more effective ways to stop disease development in the future. Participate in this kind of study and you’ll help researchers identify preventative lifestyle changes, vitamins, vaccines, or drugs.

  • Quality of life: If you struggle with a chronic, incurable illness, you can assist scientists in finding ways to ease the discomfort caused by your condition.

  • Screening: Advances in early detection have saved countless lives. When you participate in a screening trial, you help doctors figure out faster, more accurate ways to find disease.

  • Treatment: If you suffer from an illness or condition that isn’t being helped by established medical procedures, you may be eligible to participate in a treatment trial. These studies focus on finding new drugs, treatments or surgical procedures.

Most clinical trials, no matter what type, focus on a specific medical condition. Once you’ve identified the type of study that’s right for you, you may want to further narrow your options by choosing a specific health problem that you’re affected by or interests you. (This choice will is predetermined if you’re trying to find relief from a particular ailment through a treatment study.)

Finding the right research fit

Now that you’ve identified a clinical trial type and medical condition, you’re ready to begin searching for a particular trial. One place to begin is your doctor’s office. Tell your doctor the type of trial you’d like to participate in and ask if she knows of any trials seeking participants. If she does, your doctor can contact the study’s participant coordinator on your behalf, or give you the contact information.

Whether or not your doctor refers you to a clinical trial, be sure and tell her if you participate in one. She needs to make sure any new drugs you take or medical procedures you undergo as part of your trial enrollment don’t interfere with your current medical treatments.

A second resource is the Internet. Both CenterWatch, a private clearinghouse for clinical trials information, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health provide detailed listings of research studies seeking participants.

As you search through the descriptions of the various trials, you’ll notice they have specific criteria and guidelines for participation — known as inclusion/exclusion criteria. You must match these criteria exactly to participate in the study. For instance, a clinical trial may be searching for males, between ages 35 and 50 who are non-smokers and have no history of urinary or prostate problems to participate in a prostate cancer prevention study. If you don’t meet these criteria exactly, you won’t be considered for enrollment.

Once you’ve found a trial for which you think you’re eligible, you can contact the study organizers via phone or, in most cases, e-mail.

If the study organizers think you might meet the criteria, they’ll set up an appointment to meet with you. They will need to make sure your health matches the study criteria, so you may need to undergo a physical exam and perhaps even undergo some tests.

They should also explain and provide you with the study’s informed consent document. This document includes all the details of the trial, including

  • How the study will be conducted

  • Specific participant requirements

  • Participation risks and benefits

  • Study duration

  • Cost to you, if any

  • Payment to you, if any

  • Names and phone numbers of key contacts

Come to the meeting prepared. Write down any questions you have. Ask a friend or relative to come along and be a second set of ears. Bring a tape recorder so you can replay parts of the conversation you may not remember clearly.

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