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Clinical Trials Offer Hope

By Dr. Tarvez Tucker


Living near an academic medical center such as the University of Kentucky offers all of us, whether we are healthy or we are patients, the opportunity to participate in scientific studies known as clinical trials.


Clinical trials are the cornerstone of medical research. You might ask:  Will these trials benefit me directly?  What are the risks of being a volunteer research subject?  Can being involved in a study help me save money on treatments or drugs?  If my participation won’t help me directly, could it someday help my son or daughter, my grandmother or my neighbor?


It’s important to be aware of some basic principles behind the clinical trials that are conducted every day, in every medical specialty, at academic institutions such as UK.  


First of all, without such trials, medical breakthroughs and new therapies for a wide assortment of conditions could not advance.  But clinical trials are not a forum for recruiting “guinea pigs,” for untested medical theories or drugs.


Medical centers that conduct clinical trials have a powerful system of oversight, called an institutional review board (IRB), whose job it is to protect every single participant in every trial.  The IRB weighs the risks and benefits of clinical trials to make sure that the rights of volunteers are preserved and that they are not exposed to any known risks without their informed consent.  IRB meetings are frequent and painstaking; decisions are often made only after lengthy deliberation by health care providers, community members and legal experts.


For many of my patients,  joining in my research is a way to advance the frontiers of medical science.  Some do it because there’s nothing else out there for them that has worked.  Some do it because they receive free medication and free periodic physical examinations as a study participant.  


While  clinical trials often do represent cutting-edge medical science, it is important to note that treatments being investigated are not "miracle cures."  Some patients may, in fact, benefit from their participation in clinical studies.  However, there are no guarantees. The safety and effectiveness of experimental treatments have not been fully established.  Indeed, this is why clinical trials are necessary in the first place.


Clinical trials do give us the magic ingredient medical science can never forgo or underestimate:  hope.  Information about clinical trials at UK is available on the Web at http://www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu/ patient/clinicalresearch.asp.  For more information, please e-mail ukclinicalresearch@uky.edu, or call (859) 257-7856.  


Dr. Tarvez Tucker is an associate professor of neurology in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and director of the UK HealthCare Headache and Pain Clinic.

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