Clinical trials are scientific research studies that help determine the safety and effectiveness of an intervention.
This could be a new medication, vaccine, device, procedure, or anything with therapeutic purposes.
Clinical trials are done on humans, and are often the last step before an intervention is approved for use by the general public.
Now, the main goal of a clinical trial is to find out if the intervention actually works, and for that, there needs to be an experimental group that gets the new intervention and a control group that doesn’t.
In addition, researchers should eliminate as many external factors as possible, as they could affect the results.
Now, there are multiple ways to design a clinical trial, so let’s go over a couple of them.
The gold standard is the randomized, controlled clinical trial.
So as an example, let’s say there’s a new vaccine that’s being developed for a viral epidemic.
As the participants, we’ll need a group of people who tested positive for the infection.
Each person will be randomly assigned to either the experimental group who will receive the vaccine, or the control group who will usually receive a placebo.
Now, if there’s already an effective treatment available for a disease, it would be unethical to give a placebo, so the control group will receive the available treatment instead.
Now, to limit bias, both the people administering the intervention and the people receiving it won’t know who’s in the control group and who’s in the experimental group, and this is called “double blind.”
When the people assessing the data also don’t know who’s in what group, it’s a “triple blind”.
Having placebos and blinded studies will help ensure that any difference between the results of both groups is most likely due to the intervention that’s being tested and not external factors.
Another type of design is the pre-post study, where an individual will be their own control.
So for example, to test a medication for rheumatoid arthritis, we could measure the pain and joint mobility of the test subjects before giving the medication, and then again after they’ve been treated for a specific amount of time, to see if there’s any improvement.
A third type of design is a factorial design, which allows for the study of multiple interventions and their combinations.
So for a new antidepressant medication, you can compare the effect of the medication combined with psychotherapy, the effect of a placebo medication with psychotherapy, antidepressant medication and placebo psychotherapy, and the effect of a placebo medication combined with placebo psychotherapy.