November 7 , 2005
Clinical trials advance the possibilities for care
Michael Johns is executive vice president for health affairs.
The last time you or a family member took a statin drug for high cholesterol, an antibiotic for an infection, or a painkiller for a headache, you probably did not consider the years of research that went into the development of those “miracle” drugs. But perhaps you do pause occasionally to think that a relative who died years ago could be alive today if she had had access to the drugs or medical devices now readily available.
We all tend to take biomedical advances for granted, yet as members of a University community that includes an outstanding academic medical center, we should be aware of the role our fellow faculty and staff play in developing these lifesaving tools.
Medical advances require tremendous commitment from basic scientists, clinical researchers and the research staff who assist them. This research (along with our educational mission) is a major factor that distinguishes an academic medical center from a community hospital. One of the most critical phases of biomedical research is clinical trials: the multiple stages of testing involving human volunteers. After years of laboratory research and animal studies, all drugs, devices and diagnostic tests must go through rigorously supervised clinical trials to make certain they are safe and effective.
Surveys show Americans believe medical research is a valuable and critical pursuit. We take pride that our country has created an outstanding medical research establishment. Yet the majority of clinical trials lag in patient enrollment, and only a small percentage of Americans have participated in clinical research.
A shortage of volunteers for clinical trials seriously lengthens the time it takes to get a new treatment to patients. According to the National Cancer Institute, if 10 percent of cancer patients participated in clinical trials (rather than the current 5 percent), many studies could be completed within one year instead of the typical three to five.
The ability of Emory researchers to attract funding for new clinical trials depends largely on our track record with previous trials, including enrollment of appropriate numbers of patients. It also is critical that a diverse group of volunteers participates; results from clinical trials are more beneficial to all when participants closely match the diversity of the U.S. population.
People participate in clinical trials for a variety of reasons. Some are desperately ill and searching for an experimental solution; others may wish to honor a family member or friend by contributing to a future treatment. Still others hope to find out more about their own health through the specialized testing offered by a clinical trial.
Although most trials are available to people with a medical problem, some are available to healthy volunteers. Each has its own criteria. Any participation in clinical trials is voluntary, and you should become thoroughly familiar with a trial before participating.
For the past several months, a committee has been working to increase visibility and accessibility of clinical trials at Emory. We have more than 600 Emory clinical trials at our fingertips, yet many people are unaware of opportunities to participate. One of the most visible results of this campaign is the enhanced clinical trials page on the Emory Healthcare website, which includes general information on clinical trials, a listing of some of the trials available at Emory, plus a link to the clinical trials site at the National Institutes of Health, which includes more Emory clinical trials (visit www.clinicaltrials.gov, then type “Emory” in the search engine).
Clinical trials are key to a brighter future for diagnostic advances, new drug discovery and novel devices that lead to the treatment and cure of disease. Emory research faculty and staff are dedicated to increasing biomedical knowledge for Emory patients and for the global community. You can be a part of that discovery.
We can all be very proud of the great clinical trials work that is performed by Emory researchers, and I encourage you to become more knowledgeable about those trials. Please explore the Emory Healthcare website at www.emoryhealthcare.org/clinicaltrials or call Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777.
And, please, share this information with family and friends. Clinical trials are just one way Emory is “Advancing the Possibilities.”