International Clinical Trials Day

By Humber River Hospital

International Clinical Trials Day is held every year on May 20. It is an opportunity for those in health care to give pause and consider the contributions to public health made by the people who conduct clinical trials. It is also a way of raising awareness of clinical trials among members of the public. Because without that awareness, and the resulting participation of patients, there could be no clinical trials.

It is believed that the first ever clinical trial was begun on May 20, 1747. James Lind was a surgeon mate aboard the HMS Salisbury of Britain’s Royal Navy fleet. He had a theory about scurvy, which at that time was killing more British seamen than enemy navies were. He believed that the eating of citrus fruits might prevent and cure the disease, and in this he was correct. Scurvy is caused by a Vitamin C deficiency.

Lind took six groups of sailors with scurvy and assigned them various treatments in addition to their regular diet. One of the treatments was a supplement of two oranges and one lemon per day. The experiment had to be stopped six days later when the ship ran out of fruit. By that time, however, the men eating fruit had already begun to improve.

In the more than 250 years since that first clinical trial, processes have been refined and quality control is taken much more seriously. But the basic idea hasn’t really changed that much. Clinical trials are tests that involve people suffering from a specific condition. A potential treatment is given to a group of test subjects, while a different group is given either a placebo or, more often, whatever the current standard of care treatment is. The results tell researchers a great deal about the efficacy of the new treatments.

Michele Petrovic is the Research Manager at Humber River Hospital. She oversees the Office of Research, which is responsible for clinical trials here at Humber.

“In any given week, we can have between three and six patients participating in some kind of trial,” says Michele. “Mainly we run trials in oncology (cancer), nephrology (Kidneys) and GI (digestive system).”

For researchers and clinicians, clinical trials are a critical tool for testing potential new treatments. For participants, they offer a delicate kind of hope. Patients hope that the treatment being tested is effective and that they will be in the group receiving it.  Michele acknowledges that uncertainty.

“As part of the conversation we have with them when they volunteer for a trial, we have to be clear that we don’t know which is better, the standard of care treatment or the new investigational treatment,” she says.

However, Michele also makes clear to patients that when they participate in a clinical trial, they are taking part in something that has the potential to improve the care being offered, whether the condition being treated is cancer, kidney disease – or scurvy. That’s been true for more than 250 years.