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Have you ever thought about taking part in a Medical Trial? By registering your details with, we are able to send your details directly to companies who are looking for volunteers to take part in their medical research studies.

Information about you is kept on a register that CROs, Pharmaceutical companies and Clinical Investigators can access to contact you regarding individual studies.

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How trials are planned

Ideas for what a trial should look at can come from patients, people working in the NHS, researchers, organisations that fund research or policymakers.

Researchers planning a trial will draw up a protocol. This is the detailed plan for the trial, and it must include:

  • What the trial is aiming to find out
  • How many people will be involved
  • The eligibility criteria – who can take part in the trial
  • What treatments are being compared
  • What tests people taking part in the trial will have and when they must have them
  • Details about how and when information will be collected

When researchers apply for funding to run a trial, the protocol is sent for independent scientific review. Researchers make changes to the protocol, and then send it to an ethics committee for approval. The trial cannot start without ethics committee approval.

Trials that look at quality of life

Some trials, including many of the trials run by the MRC Clinical Trials Unit, try to look at the effect on people’s quality of life when they are given a new treatment when compared to the usual treatment. A “quality of life” study might look at whether:

  • You feel depressed or get angry more easily than usual
  • You feel more tired than usual
  • You are managing to lead the life you would lead normally – going to work, looking after your family, or whatever you would normally do

Who pays for trials?

Many different organisations might pay for trials to take place. For example:

  • The NHS or Medical Research Council. At the CTU, we run trials funded by the MRC and the NHS looking at treatments for different types of cancer, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.
  • Other government agencies, which might want to help address health problems in developing countries. At the CTU they are running trials looking at a treatment that might prevent HIV/AIDS. This is funded by the Department for International Development.
  • Charities, who want to find out more about best treatments for a particular illness. At the CTU we help to run trials for the Arthritis Research Campaign.
  • Drugs companies conduct most Clinical Trials in this country and elsewhere. They need to run trials to test new drugs or other treatments. At the CTU, drugs companies help to fund some of our trials and may also give us the drugs we are testing free or at a reduced price.

Monitoring the progress of trials

Because many phase III trials need to involve thousands of people, they may run for a long time – sometimes five years or longer. Trials must be monitored as they go along. There is usually a Data Monitoring Committee, which monitors the progress of a trial.

There is also usually a Trial Steering Committee, which makes sure the trial is running well. This committee might include patient representatives as well as the researchers leading the trial, doctors and nurses and an independant chairman and members.

What happens at the end of a trial?

At the end of a trial, all of the results are gathered together and analysed. The researchers may look at:

  • How effective a treatment is
  • How safe it is
  • Whether it has any side effects
  • Whether it is better than the current treatment
  • How much, or how often a treatment should be used

Researchers have a responsibility to publicise the results of their trial. They might do this at a conference, in a medical journal or in the press. Some researchers try to give the results directly to the people who took part in the trial. Some researchers work with charities and self–help groups to ensure that the results of trials reach patients who might find them of interest.

Systematic review and meta-analysis

Systematic reviews are studies that bring together the results of previous research (usually randomised trials) about one particular treatment. Researchers who do systematic reviews try to uncover all the relevant trials and to evaluate them in a fair and objective way.

Often trials that find a particular treatment works well get more publicity. Trials that find that the same treatment has no effect, or is harmful, get less publicity and are often lost. Researchers who do systematic reviews are careful to look at the results from all relevant trials, no matter what their results. Looking at all the trials also means that the researchers can see the bigger picture. Doing a systematic review is rather like gathering together all of the pieces you need to complete a jigsaw puzzle. The completed puzzle (the systematic review) tells us more about the picture than any of the individual puzzle pieces (the trials).
Where possible the numerical results of all the trials are combined to measure how well a treatment works. Combining the results in this way is called a meta-analysis.

A meta-analysis can be important because it allows us to pick up small differences between treatments. These differences can be very hard to spot, so trials need to include large numbers of patients to pick these up. Many trials are not big enough, so we cannot be sure whether any differences that we find are because of differences between the treatments or just due to chance. By bringing together the results of all trials of a particular treatment in a meta- analysis, we can look at the experience of many more patients. This gives a more reliable and accurate measurement of the effect of the treatment and a good chance of seeing which treatments are best.

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