Whether you have a life-threatening cancer, a chronic disease like diabetes, or a relatively minor medical problem, thousands of clinical trials are out there looking to recruit subjects. For patients, participating in a clinical trial can offer hope when existing medical treatments fail, as well as access to promising new treatments and an extra measure of medical attention.

Participation can also help advance medical science; in addition to testing the newest drugs in the research pipeline, trials also recruit patients to find better diagnostic tests or procedures and better ways to screen for and prevent disease. For patients suffering with chronic or terminal conditions, supportive-care trials look to explore ways to improve comfort and quality of life.

Large medical centers are developing their own Web sites to help inform and recruit trial patients locally, so if you are close to a big university with a teaching hospital and research center, check there first. And nonprofit health organizations are reaching out to community groups to educate residents about clinical trials and help them navigate issues such as getting insurance companies to pay the costs of participation. While some trials cover medical and travel expenses, not all do, and insurers will often pick up basic medical costs such as lab tests.

Of course, clinical trials have also become big business, with pharmaceutical companies paying recruiting firms to find subjects. Medical ethics experts warn there are still concerns when it comes to protecting participants, with alarming reports in recent years about deaths in clinical trials and persistent questions about conflicts of interest among researchers who have financial stakes in drugs or treatments. Patients who are recruited for trials should be told if there are any such conflicts.

Once you’ve agreed to take part there is no obligation to participate if you decide it isn’t right for you or if you are uncomfortable or dissatisfied once the trial is underway. It is important to ask about the risks and benefits, including how patients will be informed of any new risks identified during the trial, and to ask if the results of the trial will be provided to the participants.

Sometimes, your doctor will be the one to tell you about a clinical trial, especially if he or she is participating in a large study. And if you do decide to participate in a trial, you should discuss it with your physician, who may have good advice about the pros and cons. Patient support groups and disease organizations often put the word out to members about new trials that night help advance the state of knowledge in a specific disease. But there are also a growing number of other resources to help patients find clinical trials on their own, including websites sponsored by the federal government.

Here are the best places to find information about clinical trials. –- The largest registry of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted in the United States and around the world, with tens of thousands of trials with locations in more than 100 countries. Sponsored by the National Library of Medicine, the site allows users to search by medical condition or other criteria for trials testing the effect of experimental drugs, devices and procedures for many diseases and conditions. The site offers information about a trial’s purpose, who may participate, locations, and phone numbers for more details. Users can also view studies added in the last 14 days or the last 60 days. There is a good primer on understanding clinical trials and news about trials, such as decisions to discontinue a trial or the announcement of new results or findings.

CenterWatch –- This Boston-based company has trial listings from more than 1,200 companies, including many of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies worldwide, searchable by medical area, geographic region, disease, or keyword. A free patient notification service automatically e-mails users who sign up as soon as a clinical trial is posted that matches the medical and geographic area they specify. It also allows users to find results from completed clinical trials, such as how a drug performed, and what a trial’s objectives and methodology were.

EmergingMed — This for-profit service connects patients to cancer clinical trials, enabling users to create a detailed profile to see if they match the eligibility requirements of more than 10,000 trials in the United States and Canada. EmergingMed also provides the clinical trial search engines for a number of disease organizations such as the nonprofit Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and gets paid through fees it charges advocacy groups, medical centers, and research sponsors. The company doesn’t get paid to recruit patients, and doesn’t disclose personal information gathered on its site. One advantage to the service is that it helps narrow searches by disease stage and prior treatments. EmergingMed consultants call patients who have registered with the service when new trials come up and work by phone with patients to help connect them with doctors and nurses running trials.

The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation — A non-profit group that aims to raise awareness about the benefits of clinical trials offers free educational brochures on how to evaluate a clinical trial and questions to ask before participating as well as a social networking site where patients can connect with others who have participated in clinical trials and share experiences and advice. It also offers its own search site,, and a toll-free line, 1-877-MED HERO; staffers will help conduct custom searches for patients who need additional assistance.

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Filed under: Diseases & Treatments