Types of research
There are many different types of research which require research subjects. These range from the effects of medicines to the development of babies. Research is also performed into, for example, the effect of physiotherapy. Other research focuses on the influence of certain food or drink, or people's genetic predisposition for certain diseases.
A great deal of research takes place in hospitals, but also elsewhere, for example by a GP, the child healthcare centre, a nursing home, a university or a research institution. Researchers usually look for research subjects via care institutions, physicians, websites, advertisements or folders.
A lot of research involves primarily the collection of data, for example about your body temperature, and your blood or how you are feeling. Treatment is then not the goal. The researcher will, however, ask for your cooperation, for example in relation to a physical examination, a test or measurement. Sometimes you have to keep notes or fill in a questionnaire.
Other research will test a new treatment, operation, medicine or foodstuff. Usually the researcher will compare a new treatment with an existing one. Lots are drawn to determine who receives which treatment. This is known as randomisation. Which group you end up in is down to coincidence. Often the researcher does not know who is in which group. This type of research is referred to as double-blind research because neither the research subject and the researcher know which group the research subject is in.
Sometimes the researcher will compare a new treatment with a fake one. Fake treatment like this is called a placebo. The placebo is similar to the new treatment. During the research, one group of research subjects is given the new treatment and the other group is given the placebo.
Research with a medicinal product
Some of the research with research subjects is research with a medicinal product. Research with a medicinal product involving human subjects is often categorised into four phases:
Phase 1: Is the medicinal product safe?
The researchers assess how research subjects (usually healthy volunteers) cope with the medicinal product.
Phase 2: Does the medicinal product work?
If the medicinal product is safe enough, the researchers assess whether the medicinal product also actually works among a small number of ill research subjects.
Phase 3: Does the medicinal product work better than existing medicinal products?
If the results of phase 2 are positive, the researchers will ask more patients to participate. Often they will then compare the new medicinal product with an existing treatment. Is the result positive? If so, this phase will frequently be followed by registration of the medicinal product as an official medicinal product. In that case physicians are allowed to prescribe it.
Phase 4: What are the long-term effects?
Medicinal products prescribed by physicians are also still being researched. Usually the research focuses on the long-term adverse reactions. Sometimes a medicinal product is researched to assess whether it also helps combat other diseases.
Healthy volunteers usually participate in phase 1 research. During that phase the researcher assesses how research subjects cope with the medicinal product. Sometimes patients can participate in phases 2, 3 or 4 of research with medicinal products. People suffering from cancer can sometimes participate in phase 1 research. Phase 1 and 2 research does not usually lead to any improvement for the patient.