Clinical trials are regulated research studies that try to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose or treat a disease. These critical studies answer specific questions about new interventions—which can be new vaccines, drugs and devices—and measure their effectiveness and safety for patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates clinical trials in the U.S.
Get answers to your questions and learn where to find clinical trials.
Questions and Answers about Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are carefully monitored research studies. They test how well new medical approaches work in people. Each study answers scientific questions and tries to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose or treat a disease. Clinical trials are usually conducted in three phases (I, II, III). Only a small number of people participate in phase I trials while the later phases involve a larger number of volunteers.
Volunteers in one study group may receive a study-related treatment or drug, while other volunteers may receive a a different intervention. Dependent on the disease and type of trial, this could be the current drug treatment that is the standard of care or a placebo (a simulated treatment). You, your doctor and research staff may not know which treatment you are getting. Not knowing which participants are receiving the trial treatment allows the physician and research staff to objectively observe the volunteers during the study.
Treatments and interventions are generally developed by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies or researchers and other experts.
Not everyone is eligible to participate in a clinical trial. Before joining a clinical trial, you must qualify for the study by meeting certain "criteria." These criteria can include age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, your previous treatment history and other medical conditions. The criteria are different for each clinical trial. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in participating in a clinical trial.
Clinical trials take place in a variety of locations, including hospitals, universities, doctors' offices or community health clinics.
Every clinical trial in the U.S. must be approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to make sure the risks are as low as possible and are worth any potential benefits. The physicians, statisticians, patient advocates, and other members of the community that make up the IRB ensure the study is ethical and that you are not likely to be harmed. The IRB can stop a study if:
- It appears to be causing unexpected harm to participants
- There is evidence that the risks outweigh the benefits
- There is clear evidence that the new treatment is effective (If this is the case, the goal is to stop the trial and make the treatment more widely available)
There are both benefits and risks associated with clinical trials.
Possible benefits include:
- Access to new treatments that are not yet available to the public
- Access to expert medical care at a leading healthcare facility
- Playing an active role in your own health care
- Helping others by contributing to medical research
- There may be unpleasant, serious or even life-threatening side effects from treatment
- Treatment may not be effective for some individuals
- The study may require a lot of time for traveling to the study site, receiving treatments, or hospital stays
- Your health insurance may not cover all the study costs
You may withdraw from a study at any time, for any reason.
Where to Find a Clinical Trial
Your doctor may be able to help you find a clinical trial. You can also search for clinical trials online. The American Lung Association wants our patient and caregiver visitors to be aware of the following clinical trial programs:
- American Lung Association's clinical trials listing
- CenterWatch Clinical Trial Research Center. One of the largest listings of clinical trials actively recruiting patients. CenterWatch provides patients and their advocates information on clinical trials, specific drugs, as well as other essential health and educational resources.
- ClinicalTrials.gov. A registry of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted in the U.S. and around the world. ClinicalTrials.gov gives you information about a trial's purpose, who may participate, locations and phone numbers for more details. This information should be used in conjunction with advice from healthcare professionals. is a service of the U.S. government.
- ResearchMatch. A national registry designed to promote the completion of clinical trials by matching volunteers interested in research with researchers nationwide. Funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science, which is part of the NIH, ResearchMatch is disease-neutral and institution neutral so that participants with and without health problems can be included and valued.
Airways Clinical Research Center (ACRC) Clinical Trials
The Airways Clinical Research Centers (ACRC) is a Lung Association-sponsored research program that conducts large clinical trials that directly impact asthma and COPD treatment, and patient care. The network is the largest of its kind outside the pharmaceutical industry. Learn more and see a list of locations.
Lung Cancer Clinical Trials
Download our checklist to help you talk with your doctor about clinical trials.
You can also search the Lung Cancer Clinical Trials Matching Service, provided by a partnership between the American Lung Association and EmergingMed. Patients can search for clinical trials that match their specific diagnosis and treatment history. Also, join the Lung Cancer Registry, which may help match you with clinical trials that might be right for your type of lung cancer.
COPD Clinical Trials
The American Lung Association has joined forces with the COPD Foundation to share the COPD Patient-Powered Research Network (COPD PPRN). The COPD PPRN is an opportunity for individuals living with COPD to join a community of people who want to revolutionize research by sharing the impact COPD has on their lives. By joining the COPD PPRN, this registry will serve as a clinical research resource for researchers including the Airways Clinical Research Center to further COPD research for millions.
Page last updated: April 7, 2020