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How Clinical Trials Work And How They Affect You


Every year, thousands of patients volunteer to take part in clinical trials throughout the U.S.  They're a fundamental step in the approval process for the drugs we take — whether that’s Tylenol, Adderall or Prozac. Yet we hear very little about how the clinical trial process works: How are patients recruited? Who benefits?

Clinical trials affect all of us, Dr. Tina Ali Mohammad says. She’s Principal Investigator at Relaro Medical Trials in Dallas.

“Because if you think about medications, everything from over-the-counter cold medicine to the really heavy duty cancer drugs, they all at some point have had to undergo rigorous testing thanks to the FDA, to make sure that they’re safe for use," Mohammad says. "So without the patients, without the doctors, without the staff, without their participants, we wouldn’t have any guarantees and people would still be selling snake oil as they were in the 1800s.”

Finding participants for clinical trials is a challenge

As principal investigator, Mohammad acts as the medical monitor who makes sure that experimental treatments – her focus is on psychiatry medications – are appropriate for each patient and follow federal guidelines.

She says finding people to participate in clinical studies on mental health is a challenge for two reasons: First, there’s some stigma around mental health in our society. And second, there’s some stigma around clinical trials.

“I think what the public knows of clinical trials, unfortunately is overwhelmingly negative," Mohammad says. "If you think back in history, you think back to the Tuskegee trials, you think of all the medical experiments done by the Nazis, you’re thinking this stuff is unethical and it’s wrong and it’s a last resort. This conversation, I’m hoping, will open people’s minds, and they’ll at least consider this as a viable option alongside their regular treatment.”

Studying an ethnically diverse group is crucial

When testing a new medicine, finding a diverse group of patients is key, Mohammad says.

“And we’re finding more and more that your ethnic makeup does impact how you respond to certain medications because your ability to metabolize certain chemicals is going to be different based on hat makeup.”

Mohammad says she tries to break down barriers among people in her community, she identifies as Pakistani-American, by having conversations and giving lectures about depression.  

Using social media to recruit participants

Relaro Medical Trials has also been harnessing the power of social media to recruit a diverse pool of patients.

“There’s also programs like Study Kick that will make it easy for anyone interested in clinical trial to submit their name and information and submit the areas that are interesting to them and study kick will match trials for that patient,” Mohammad says.