Clinical trials & medical research

Reasons for wanting to take part: helping medical science and others

Many young people we interviewed said they took part in trials for a mix of reasons, including helping themselves and others and helping medical science. In this section we focus on helping medical science and others. (See also ‘Reasons for wanting to take part: personal benefit).

All the young people we interviewed had a condition or were healthy volunteers for trials of preventive care such as vaccine trials. The idea of improving care and making life better for other people in the future was a common reason for wanting to take part in trials. Helping advance knowledge was felt to be positive thing. 

Wanting to help others who may be diagnosed with similar conditions in the future was a common reason for taking part. They talked about directly helping other young people like them, and also more generally contributing to medical research and improving our understanding of conditions and treatments. 

Several mentioned how grateful they were for the treatment they had received (See Kay’s story above) and for the contribution other young people made to research (see Joe and Joanna’s story below). Taking part in research could be a way of feeling they were giving something back, and help them get something positive out of their illness.

Young people often said that being in a trial was worth it to help find out if new treatments work, even if there were some side effects or discomfort involved.

Phase 3 trials are usually large. They include hundreds or even thousands of patients. They often compare the effects of new treatments or drugs with standard treatments, if there are any. They provide more reliable evidence about whether newer treatments are better, or worse than existing treatments, and firmer evidence about how common and serious any short term side effects are. Almost all Phase 3 trials are randomised trials. In a randomised trial, some people are given the new treatment; others are given an existing, standard treatment. If there is no standard treatment, the new treatment may be compared with a placebo. Some randomised trials may compare more than two groups and some may be blinded. The UK Clinical Research Collaboration booklet ‘Understanding Clinical Trials’ includes a useful section on the risks and benefits of trials.

Some trials (for example vaccine trials) require healthy people to take part. We spoke to some young people who took part in Swine Flu and Meningitis C vaccine trials. (See also ’What is involved in a trial: appointments and monitoring’.) Helping to prevent future childhood illnesses and protect the health of the wider public was a reason for taking part as Will says' “...helping like the doctors and the nurses decide which one they were going to put out on the public”.

Last reviewed March 2017.

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