Participating in Research, Part I: What is Clinical Research?

Participating in Research, Part I: What is Clinical Research?


Several posts have described research results that have answered a clinical question or changed how we viewed a clinical topic. This post and the next post will focus on clinical research and why it is important that patients and families participate.


Clinical research refers to the study of human health and disease. We can study medicine at many levels. For example, the bacteria that cause disease can be viewed through a microscope and studied or researchers can use mice to study a disease process that affects humans. The key feature of clinical research is that it involves the study of humans.


Human studies can vary depending on what the researchers are interested in learning. Types of clinical research include:1

  • Treatment studies – evaluating which medical interventions work best for a disease
  • Prevention studies – evaluating how to prevent a disease from starting or progressing
  • Diagnostic studies – evaluating how best to reach a medical diagnosis
  • Genetic studies – evaluating which gene(s) cause, or increase risk for, a disease
  • Epidemiological studies – identifying patterns, causes, and control of a disease

There are several other types of clinical research.


Once the topic of the clinical research is determined, human subjects must be recruited to participate in the study. Recruitment (who, how, when, and where) is determined by the type of study. For example, a study of headache treatment in children will recruit young patients with headaches to participate. Since those patients need to be identified first, such a study might recruit young patients who are referred to a headache clinic for evaluation. In contrast, researchers conducting a study of stroke prevention would likely recruit adults who are at risk of stroke, but have not yet had a stroke. These individuals might be recruited from general family practice clinic or through a newspaper advertisement. Importantly, both patients and healthy individuals can participate in clinical research studies.

The next post (Participating in Research, Part 2: What to Expect) will describe what to expect if you or a family member is approached and asked to participate in a study. It will also discuss why it is important that people try to participate in clinical research when they can.


1. Website; last accessed 6/28/2019: