Putting your body on the line

14 November 2014        

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Results from a new survey show a record number of people would be willing to take part in clinical research if diagnosed with a disease or medical condition.

The survey conducted on behalf of the National Institute for Health and Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network showed 9 out of 10 people would put their bodies on the line to help advance clinical research.

What is clinical research and why is it important?

Clinical researchers we fund are continuously searching for new ways to cure, treat and prevent cardiovascular diseases. Their work ultimately aims to increase patient survival rates through improvements in care. Clinical research is fundamental when developing these new treatments, medications and diagnostic tools and equipment. The more people volunteering to take part in clinical trials, the faster improvements in care can evolve.

During clinical research promising new and experimental treatments or technologies can be tested on people for the first time. If an experimental treatment or technology is successful in clinical research trials, it can quickly become an established procedure in clinical practice and can dramatically improve the outlook for future patients.

How does this work save lives?

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, details the importance clinical research plays in translating fundamental science to established procedures used in clinical practice.

Clinical research is invaluable for the progression of medicine.

Professor Jeremy Pearson
Associate Medical Director at the BHF

"Clinical research is invaluable for the progression of medicine. This can be through establishing new methods to prevent disease or by developing more efficient treatments than those that currently exist. Often the only appropriate way to evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments is through patient participation, therefore it is important that we increase awareness of clinical research trials how people can become involved."

Through patient participation, Professor’s Mike Frenneaux and Houman Ashrafian, from the Universities of Aberdeen and Oxford, led the renaissance of a drug called perhexiline, which was originally used to treat angina. In a BHF-funded clinical study comprising 46 patients, substantially contributed to by centres in London, Birmingham and Oxford, Professor’s Frenneaux and Ashrafian have shown perhexiline can improve the efficiency of the heart to work in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an inherited condition that causes thickening of the heart muscle. Symptoms of HCM include shortness of breath, chest pains and palpitations, and it can cause sudden death. The outcome of this study is positive and indicates that monitored treatment with perhexiline can lead to a significant increase in the quality of life for patients with severe HCM symptoms.

Do medicines always need testing?

New medicines may be highly efficient at treating the conditions they are designed to target, however unforeseen toxicity or a side-effect can often limit their use in people. Perhexiline was previously shown to be toxic and caused side-effects in a proportion of patients who had taken it to treat angina. The investigators above have confirmed that through the careful monitoring of perhexiline concentrations in the blood these major side-effects can be completely avoided. It is during clinical research that factors such as length of treatment and dose strength can be changed, and treatments can be refined to achieve the best results for the patient.

Professor Houman Ashrafian said:

Patient participation is key to drug development.

Professor Houman Ashrafian
The University of Oxford

“Moreover, being able to look at both healthy volunteers and patients suffering from heart diseases in detail can also provide an insight into how a drug, such as perhexiline, works and identify those that could most benefit from taking it.”

Clinical studies are an integral part of medicine and technological development and represent the latter stepping stones towards approval of a new treatment or technology for clinical use. Not only can clinical trials improve the prospects of people yet to be diagnosed with CVDs but taking part in clinical research developing treatments for incurable conditions can offer hope for patients with an otherwise poor prognosis.

What does this new survey show?

Dr Jonathan Sheffield, Chief executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network commented on the findings of the survey, saying:

“It is important that we make information about clinical research opportunities widely available to NHS patients, through as many routes as we can. Although [survey results indicate] 77 per cent of people are aware that clinical research happens in hospitals, they are less informed about opportunities to take part at their local GPs [despite] one in three GP practises being research active.”

Over 600,000 people took part in clinical research within the NHS last year. With this figure set to rise, the increase in willingness to participate and positive public attitude towards clinical research gives us a much better chance to win the fight for every heartbeat.

How can you help?

Find out more about taking part in clinical research and what is happening in your local area.

We fund a wealth of excellent clinical research, improving the care, treatment and early diagnosis of those suffering from cardiovascular diseases. Find out about the research we are currently funding and help us fund more clinical research by donating now.