Meningitis Now staff - Jane Blewitt

The importance of clinical trials

Jane Blewitt | 21st May 2020

Yesterday (20 May) was International Clinical Trials Day – a day that aims to raise awareness of the importance and value of clinical trials in ensuring that patients receive the most effective treatments or medical interventions

Importance of clinical trials

What is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials are medical research studies involving people. They set out to discover the best ways to prevent disease, improve the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of illness, and improve quality of life for people living with long-term conditions.

The first clinical trial

James Lind, a medical apprentice, joined the Royal Navy in the late 1730s as a surgeon’s mate. He observed that many sailors became ill with extreme fatigue, bleeding gums, slow healing wounds, joint pains and heart problems; a condition later named scurvy and found to be caused by a lack of vitamin C. He was also aware that many remedies had been suggested and tried by others.

In 1747, he carried out the first clinical trial recorded in medical science by dividing 12 ill sailors, all with similar symptoms, into six pairs. Each pair received one of six different remedies for two weeks, including cider, a small dose of weak sulphuric acid, seawater, a garlic and mustard paste, vinegar or lemons and oranges. He also ensured that the living conditions and diet of all the sailors were the same. After one week, only the sailors having lemons and oranges were well enough to care for the others.

It wasn’t until 1753 that these results were published, and it took another 42 years for the Admiralty to order the use of lemon juice for all sailors.

Clinical trials and meningitis

Despite the availability of effective vaccines to protect against some types of meningitis, and medicines such as antibiotics to treat those who become ill, there is always a need to develop new, or improve existing, therapies. Well-designed clinical trials will support improvements in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of meningitis and meningococcal disease. It is also important that all trial results, both positive and negative, are published so that future research can be effective and efficient.

Meningitis Now is not in a position to directly fund clinical trials. They are expensive and usually funded by much larger organisations. However, many smaller research studies are often linked to clinical trials and we are sometimes able to fund these. 

Read about our current meningitis research projects.

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