Clinical research refers to studies conducted in collaboration with human beings, undertaken to improve human health. It has shaped the successes of modern medicine by uncovering evidence to advance the treatment, prevention, diagnosis, and understanding of human disease.
With the world’s largest hospital devoted to clinical research—the NIH Clinical Center—on our doorstep, Intramural Research Program (IRP) clinicians and scientists have unparalleled resources and opportunities to conduct clinical studies and move discoveries made at the laboratory bench into the clinical setting. Every year, more than one thousand clinical studies are conducted at the NIH. The proximity of labs, equipment, and patient care units help to rapidly move biomedical laboratory findings into the clinic.
Although clinical trials are an important component of therapy development, clinical research in the IRP is much broader. Our research encompasses:
- Studies of the mechanisms of human disease
- Translational research (in which laboratory and clinical activities are closely aligned)
- Clinical trials of preventive and therapeutic strategies
- Behavioral research
- Health services and outcomes research
Clinical research demands the skills and expertise of many kinds of investigators, including individuals whose primary training is in medicine (“physician scientists”), dentistry, public health, nursing, psychology, and various laboratory sciences. Other professionals such as dietitians, computer programmers, bioengineers, and technicians are also essential to clinical research.
Of course, medical progress hinges on patients and other volunteers in clinical research, who often participate without expectation of immediate health benefits for themselves. In fact, over 50 percent of NIH’s clinical protocols are “natural history” studies to determine the underlying causes of disease, particularly new or rare diseases.