Why not join a scientific research study – and help your fellow man?
Medical researchers are always looking for people to participate in a randomized clinical trial.
To find out more about how to sign up for one, Family Goes Strong talked with Dr. Robert Kushner, professor of general internal medicine and geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and clinical director of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity. Excerpts:
Why is it a good idea for people to join a scientific research study?
If we didn't conduct research, we would not advance our treatments and our methods. The alternative to doing research is every clinician does what he or she thinks is useful, and then we end up spinning in a circle. We're not increasing the standard of care on how to treat disease.
And famous studies have revealed that conventional wisdom can be wrong…
We thought that taking vitamin E [supplements] would be very helpful to reduce cancer. We do this study, and we find out not does it not reduce the risk of cancer, but it can increase it! [Without studies] we can potentially subject people to a lot of recommendations that are not only useless but harmful.
What motivates people to join studies?
The first argument is one of altruism and helping the public good. You [also] get excellent care and management that is free. We follow our clinical subjects closer than we do our patients. You're seen more often, and you're given much more attention during the course of the year, and it's free. What you have to agree to, though, is you are likely to be put in one group or the other.
People always want to be in the treatment group, not the control group, right?
They do. But if we knew treatment helped, we wouldn't be doing the study.
You're recruiting now for a one-year study of changes in blood-glucose levels of type 2 diabetics following Weight Watchers and type 2 diabetics getting standard nutritional counseling. Who is eligible, and where do participants need to live?
It's adults who are overweight and have obesity and have diabetes that is not as tightly controlled as the doctor would like it to be. There are multiple sites around the country that are participating. [Among them: the Medical University of South Carolina, Northwestern University, the University of Alabama, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Weill Medical College of Cornell.]
How does the study work?
You're randomized by a flip of the coin. In order to demonstrate this approach works, you have to compare it to something, and that would be your standard of care. If you are randomized to [that] group, you are given the program free for the second year. You have to have a BMI between 27 and 50. [To calculate your body-mass index, visit the National Institutes of Health website.]
A husband, wife, and older child could do the Weight Watchers study together?
It's 18 to 70 [years old]. So it could be a kid. It's a wide net. And it's low risk. You get benefit no matter what group you're in. The primary outcome is improvement in diabetes control through weight loss.
What do participants in any study need to do?
When you're in a research study, you have to be committed and finish that study. We need people who adhere to what it is we're asking them to do. They sign informed consent. All research since World War II has been informed consent.
Sometimes participants are paid, right?
It's meant to compensate for time away from work, this or that. All study visits are free. Transportation is always paid for. We pay if we're asking someone to do something that's above or beyond. Weight Watchers, we don't pay people.
Where can families find studies that need participants?
Clinicaltrials.gov. Every clinical trial now must be registered with the government. I would encourage anyone who's interested, the local hospital or university should have an internet posting.
So this is a way that regular people can contribute to medical research, even if they can't donate millions of dollars.
Not everyone has money to give but participating in a study is a way of contributing.
And there's no real downside.
Exactly. The way research is these days is all research must go through institutional review boards, which is essentially attesting to the ethics of the study. They will not do harm. That's the role of IRB's — to attest the safety and the ethics of any study. You may not get the randomized treatment you want, but generally you're going to get some benefit from participating in the study.
Does your family participate in any studies?
My wife participates in the Two Sister Study. Her sister had breast cancer. The study is studying the sisters of people who have had breast cancer. A lot of times you learn by studying the blood relatives of individuals who have a medical problem.
For more stories about families and health, read: