What is a Clinical Trial

Patient care advances rely on good clinical research. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, is an important funding source for heart research in the United States. Below is information from their website, which provides additional information on who sponsors clinical trials, how they work and what people should expect when they participate in a clinical trial. For more information, please visit:

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment or device is safe and effective for humans. These studies also may show which medical approaches work best for certain illnesses or groups of people. Clinical trials produce the best evidence to guide health care decisions.

The purpose of clinical trials is research, so the studies follow strict scientific standards. These standards protect patients and help produce reliable and interpretable study results.

Clinical trials are one of the final stages of a long and careful research process. The process often begins in a laboratory (lab), where scientists first develop and test new ideas in molecules and cells.

If an approach seems promising, the next step may involve animal testing. This shows how the approach affects a living body and whether it's harmful. However, an approach that works well in the lab or animals doesn't always work well in people. Thus, research in humans is needed.

For safety purposes, clinical trials start with small groups of people, often healthy people, to find out whether a new approach causes any harm. In later phases of clinical trials, researchers learn more about the new approach's risks and benefits in patients with the disease of interest.

It is important always in clinical trials to make sure that there is “equipoise” about the different strategies being tested, that is, doctors truly don’t know which approach is the better one. A clinical trial may find that a new strategy, treatment or device:

  • Improves patient outcomes
  • Offers no benefit
  • Causes unexpected harm

All of these results are important because they advance medical knowledge and help improve patient care.

Please complete a UA Sarver Heart Center Cardiology Research Registry Information Form to learn about new clinical research studies for which you may be eligible.