A Look into The History of Clinical Research
We tend to think of things like clinical research as a modern invention. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, there are written records of work by early clinical researchers dating back to as early as 500BC.
Clinical research refers to the process of testing a hypothesis using a clearly defined set of parameters. Different groups are given different situations, and the results for each group are measured to find out whether a particular assumption is correct or not.
Biblical Clinical Research
One of the earliest examples of what we would consider a clinical trial today was recorded in the Bible, when King Nebuchadnezzar ordered all of his people to eat a diet that consisted mainly of meat and wine. He considered this to be the healthiest choice. But a few young men objected and were allowed to eat vegetables for ten days. At the end of the ten-day test period, they were in better health than their peers, so they were allowed to continue eating a plant-based diet.
You can read about that experiment in the Book of Daniel. While biblical kings weren’t clinical researchers as we know them today, tests like that helped to create testing processes we still use today.
In 1537, Ambroise Pare, a surgeon treating the soldiers of the Mareschal de Motegni was forced to change the treatment given to wounded patients. Instead of cauterizing wounds with boiling oil, he used a cold treatment made from egg yolks turpentine and rose oil.
When the patients treated with the new, alternative method were better than those treated with the old method the next day, Pare determined that his new treatment was superior. That discovery saved many more soldiers from having their wounds scalded by oil!
A lot of the early clinical researchers discovered their new treatments accidentally. But in 1747, a clinical researcher named James Lind conducted the first modern clinical trial.
He selected twelve scurvy sufferers on a ship named the Salisbury. They were all similarly affected, so they were all good candidates for the trial. He divided them into six groups of two each and altered each group’s diet slightly.
At the end of the trial period, the group that had received oranges and lemons as part of their diet showed a marked improvement over the rest. Which was when we all learned that vitamin C prevents and cures scurvy!
Modern Day Trials
These days, we have much more rigid rules for clinical trials, and clinical researchers have to make it through many more levels of trials and safety studies. But the basic method hasn’t changed.
We still select a group of people with similar symptoms or in similar health. We still give each different group a slightly different version of the treatment, and some still get no treatment at all (or a placebo, to preserve the integrity of the study.)
The results of these trials and the work of clinical researchers that run them are still changing the world and how we diagnose and treat all kinds of diseases and ailments. It’s less accidental than some of the earlier trials described here, but there are still sometimes surprising results. It all helps to move us forward though, and to discover new ways to live better, longer, healthier lives.