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About clinical research 

What is clinical research?

Clinical research can also be called ‘clinical trials’ or ‘health and social care research’.

The studies on this site cover a huge range of clinical research.  

The aim of a health or social care study – whatever it tests – is to find out whether what is being tested is better, and safer, than what is currently available. This can include therapies and drugs to treat but also services as well as ways to diagnose or prevent diseases.

What sort of things do clinical research studies test?

Researchers use clinical trials to test a wide range of ‘interventions’ including, for example, drugs, devices and health education.

For example, researchers might design a trial to see how well a new vaccine prevents a certain disease from occurring, or how effective a new medicine, or combination of medicines, is compared with the current  (‘standard’) treatment. They might also be trying to reduce the side effects of existing treatments.

Not all trials are drug trials. A research study might be based on a new medical device, or a treatment aimed at changing behaviour or lifestyle, such as a therapy session or an educational programme. It may look at how to diagnose a condition or prevent it happening in the first place.

Are clinical trials safe?

Last year more than 700,000 people across the UK took part in thousands of studies.

Each trial is designed to keep risk of harm to participants to a minimum. Those who take part are carefully assessed by trained and qualified professionals who ensure they are suitable for the study and participants are monitored carefully throughout.

Rigorous processes – including a review by an NHS Research Ethics Committee – protect your rights, dignity, safety and wellbeing if you take part in a clinical study in the UK. It’s through these processes that we ensure risks are kept as low as possible.

Before a trial starts, researchers should carry out a ‘systematic review’ which looks at what information and knowledge is already out there and determines whether the trial they are planning needs to happen. Everyone involved with the trial, such as patients, health professionals, statisticians, trial managers and representatives from drug companies then work together to design the best possible trial.

That said, there can be risks as well as benefits to joining a study. Before taking part, you should always ask your doctor any questions to make sure you completely understand all that is involved. To find out more, see our page on things to consider before joining a trial.

Can anyone take part in a clinical trial?

Not everyone can take part in every study, because each one is different. When setting up studies, researchers create a set of guidelines, known as ‘eligibility criteria’, which determines who can and can’t take part.

For one study, for example, you might only be able to take part if you’re over a certain age and have blood pressure below a certain level. Or for another, you might not be eligible if you’re pregnant to avoid risks to your unborn baby.

Before you take part in a particular trial, you may need to be tested to check you are eligible – for example, testing your blood pressure or answering questions about your health.

Some research requires volunteers who have specific conditions to take part but there are many studies that need people who are in good health.

Where does clinical research take place?

Research can happen in lots of places: at an NHS hospital or health centre, at a university or research institute, in a care home, or in some cases, in your own home. Again, what the study involves will often determine where it will take place.

If you’re thinking of getting involved, you should consider whether you will be able to travel there easily. For more on the practicalities of taking part in research, read our section on what you should know before choosing to join a study.

Read more

Why is taking part in research so important?

What should I know before taking part in a study

What happens on a study?

How can I find a study I can take part in?