When people think about clinical trials, chances are they are met with confusion, uncertainty, or simply that it’s something that’s only performed on animals before making a drug available for human use. In actual fact, clinical trials play a huge role in the medical sector, ensuring treatments and tests are safe and effective, while giving thousands of patients a better quality of life.
There is plenty of support surrounding clinical trials, yet there is a lack of awareness that is preventing many from realising the value and benefit of them when it comes to health. In fact, almost anyone in Australia can participate in clinical trials, with certain conditions more sought after than others. More than 1,000 new clinical trials start in Australia each year and more than 10,000 trials were conducted between 2006 and 2015.
It’s something that has directly benefited Robert Smith. On Valentine’s Day last year, Robert suffered a stroke that changed his life forever.
“It was quite weird because I had these funny symptoms and within a minute or so, they’d all gone away. By this stage, my wife had rung triple-zero because we were sitting together working on the computer and as a matter of urgency, they dispatched an ambulance,” Robert told Starts at 60. “The ambos came, the paramedics came and they came to the conclusion that I’d had what’s called a transient ischemic attack, something that comes and goes and doesn’t leave you permanently effected.”
Although a stroke can be devastating, Robert describes himself as lucky. If it had occurred just two centimetres across from where I did, he could have been permanently paralysed. As part of his recovery at a stroke clinic, health professionals advised Robert he would be a suitable candidate for an international trial of a new drug.
With 6,000 people included, the double-blind trial meant Robert and his medical team didn’t know whether he would be on an existing medication or a new drug, but knew it wouldn’t be a placebo.
“My children researched it on the internet and we spoke to our GP about it to see what he thought,” Robert said. “He gave us a recommendation that we should proceed. I was on this trial for nearly 18 months.”
While he doesn’t yet know the results, he will soon find out whether his health will benefit from remaining on the new drug or to continue on another drug he’s already on. Still, he didn’t experience another stroke since taking part in the trial – something that is uncommon for stroke survivors.
“The big thing with strokes is there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll have a second one within three months, often worse than the first one. In my case, it would most likely have been worse,” he said. “I didn’t have another one, luckily.”
Robert was required to go back to the clinic every three months for blood samples, for a quick health check-up and to answer questions about his health. He said the regular visits motivated him to improve his lifestyle. He’s even joined up for a separate clinical trial that assesses the merits of exercise regimes to stop people having falls. He also encourages other Baby Boomers to get involved in trials when they can.
“The key would be to research the trial and we have a very good GP who is appropriate to discuss these kinds of things with,” Robert said. “Take advice from somebody you have faith in and make your decision. I couldn’t imagine there’d be trials that would be poorly structured and that you’d have to avoid.”
For more information about clinical trials, visit australianclinicaltrials.gov.au.