Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Clinical Trial?

A clinical trial is a regulated, systematic way to answer a question related to health care. Clinical trials are also called medical research or research studies. The goal of any particular trial can vary. For example, it may be seeking a better way to:

  • Detect a disease or disorder
  • Control or manage a disease
  • Prevent an illness
  • Cure a disease or disorder
  • Determine the safety or effectiveness of new drugs or treatments

Patient volunteers are monitored for side effects by closely supervised and ethically designed trials. As with any medical intervention, there are potential risks that you need to know about before you decide to enroll in a clinical trial. Your participation may require visits to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, and/or its affiliates. Any questions you may have about the study will be answered before you participate.

Why Participate In a Clinical Trial?

As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to be involved in clinical research that may bring about advances in science and health care. Volunteers are needed in all areas of clinical research, from trials in healthy volunteers to disease specific studies.

How Do I Know a Trial is Safe?

Before a new treatment is tested with patients, it is carefully studied for several years in the laboratory and tested for safety. This process identifies the new methods most likely to succeed and, as much as possible, shows how to use them safely and effectively.

At Vanderbilt, clinical trials undergo a rigorous approval process both by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and by two separate committees at the medical center. One Vanderbilt committee reviews the study to be sure it is scientifically sound. The other is the Institutional Review Board (IRB), which focuses on protecting study volunteers. Researchers and doctors approving a study have reason to believe that it will be as good as or better than current treatments.

What is Participation in a Trial Like?

Patients who qualify for a trial decide, with advice from their doctor, whether to participate in a study. How a treatment will work for any given patient in the trial cannot be known ahead of time. Therefore, the patient will learn about both the risks and benefits of the study before making a decision. This is informed consent.

A patient will never be placed in a clinical trial without their knowledge or permission. All qualified participants sign consent forms before the study begins. A patient may leave a study at any time without any effect on their continuing medical care.

How Can I Find Out About Clinical Trials at Vanderbilt I May Be Interested In?

You can search open clinical trials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center using our online tool, My Research at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is also a partner in a national recruitment registry, ResearchMatch, that connects people who would like to participate in research with researchers at Vanderbilt and nationwide.

If you are interested in a cancer clinical trial, you can also visit the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

What Are Other Good Resources For Information About Clinical Trials?

  • provides patients, family members, and members of the public easy and free access to information on clinical studies for a wide range of diseases and conditions.
  • The National Cancer Institute provides accurate, up-to-date information about many types of cancer, information about clinical trials, resources for people dealing with cancer, and information for researchers and health professionals.