Clinical Trials

Most people don't think about the origins of the drug they buy at the local pharmacy, or the inspiration behind the medical procedure they may undergo during their treatment at ColumbiaDoctors. Yet every medication, every diagnostic image, every surgical procedure–medical treatment in any shape or form–stems from a single source: research. Medical innovations start with the ideas and visions of committed scientists. Successful innovations then evolve over time–not weeks or months, but years–graduating through the different stages of development: basic research, translational research, and clinical research.

Basic research, done in labs, involves studying how cells work, how they talk to each other, how they know what to do, and what conditions and drugs make their functions more or less efficient.

Translational research bridges scientific discovery to clinical delivery—whether by bringing tools out of the laboratory and delivering them to the patient, or by taking techniques and findings from the clinical setting back to the laboratory for evidenced-based practice.

Clinical trials, also known as clinical research, are the furthest progression from the basic research lab. In clinical trials, scientists apply their discoveries to humans, testing new drugs, devices, or innovative therapies in selected patients.

What is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials are the bridge over which all new medical therapies must pass to become accepted practice—and the bridge is a long one. For patients, clinical trials can typically last for a few weeks or months. For scientists, they can continue on for years before a new therapy may see the light of day.

There are different types of clinical trials: treatment, prevention, diagnostic, screening, and quality of life trials—and the trials are conducted in progressive phases (I-IV). Once a clinical trial reaches the end of the bridge–proving its potential worth as a medical therapy–the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government agency, must officially approve the therapy for medical consumers.

For patients, participation in a clinical trial is voluntary. Common reasons for joining a clinical trial include: playing a more active role in your own health care; gaining access to innovative treatments before they become widely available; and helping others by contributing to advancements in medical research.

For more information about clinical trials currently available at Columbia University Medical Center, please visit Columbia RecruitMe.