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What is a clinical trial?

MS nurse and patient talking

A clinical trial is a research study involving healthy individuals or people with a condition, to test new or different types of treatments.

People take part in clinical trials in all areas of medicine, not just to test new drugs. For example a clinical trial might be used to find out whether Pilates can lead to improved balance for people with MS; another clinical trial may be designed to test whether a course of cognitive behaviour therapy results in reduced fatigue.

Clinical trials are the only reliable way to find out if a new treatment is better than what is already available. No matter how promising a new treatment may appear to be in laboratory testing or in an individual it must go through clinical trials before its benefits and risks are really known.

Because MS is such a variable condition clinical trials need to be conducted on tens, hundreds or even thousands of people over a period of time – weeks, months or years to smooth out the variation.

The results of clinical trials give an evidence base from which health professionals and people with MS can judge the value of different treatments.

The funding for clinical trials may come from:

  • Government organisations including the NHS
  • Research councils
  • Charities
  • Healthcare companies.

The costs for a clinical trial which have to be covered include:

  • The treatment
  • Tests and hospital stays
  • Research staff to run the trial and collect the data
  • Staff and computer technology to analyse the results
  • Administrative costs which include paperwork, data collection, overseeing the protocol and production of results
  • Travel expenses

Please note that you should be very wary of any 'clinical trial' in which participants are expected to pay for treatment.

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