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Glossary of Key Terms

Understanding Clinical Trials  |  Clinical Trials

Source: National Institutes of Health

The following glossary was prepared to help you become familiar with the most common terms used in clinical trials.

ADVERSE REACTION: (Adverse Event.) An unwanted effect caused by the administration of drugs. Onset may be sudden or develop over time (See Side Effects).

BASELINE: 1. Information gathered at the beginning of a study from which variations found in the study are measured. 2. A known value or quantity with which an unknown is compared when measured or assessed. 3. The initial time point in a clinical trial, just before a participant starts to receive the experimental treatment which is being tested. At this reference point, measurable values such as CD4 count are recorded. Safety and efficacy of a drug are often determined by monitoring changes from the baseline values.

BLIND: A randomized trial is "Blind" if the participant is not told which arm of the trial he is on. A clinical trial is "Blind" if participants are unaware on whether they are in the experimental or control arm of the study; also called masked. (See Single Blind Study and Double Blind Study).

CLINICAL: Pertaining to or founded on observation and treatment of participants, as distinguished from theoretical or basic science.

CLINICAL ENDPOINT: See Endpoint.

CLINICAL INVESTIGATOR: A medical researcher in charge of carrying out a clinical trial's protocol.

CLINICAL TRIAL: A clinical trial is a research study to answer specific questions about vaccines or new therapies or new ways of using known treatments. Clinical trials (also called medical research and research studies) are used to determine whether new drugs or treatments are both safe and effective. Carefully conducted clinical trials are the fastest and safest way to find treatments that work in people.

COHORT: In epidemiology, a group of individuals with some characteristics in common.

COMPASSIONATE USE: A method of providing experimental therapeutics prior to final FDA approval for use in humans. This procedure is used with very sick individuals who have no other treatment options. Often, case-by-case approval must be obtained from the FDA for "compassionate use" of a drug or therapy.

COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE THERAPY: Broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies that Western (conventional) medicine does not commonly use to promote well-being or treat health conditions. Examples include acupuncture, herbs, etc.

CONFIDENTIALITY REGARDING TRIAL PARTICIPANTS: Refers to maintaining the confidentiality of trial participants including their personal identity and all personal medical information. The trial participants' consent to the use of records for data verification purposes should be obtained prior to the trial and assurance must be given that confidentiality will be maintained.

CONTRAINDICATION: A specific circumstance when the use of certain treatments could be harmful.

CONTROL GROUP: The standard by which experimental observations are evaluated. In many clinical trials, one group of patients will be given an experimental drug or treatment, while the control group is given either a standard treatment for the illness or a placebo (See Placebo and Standard Treatment).

CONTROLLED TRIALS: Control is a standard against which experimental observations may be evaluated. In clinical trials, one group of participants is given an experimental drug, while another group (i.e., the control group) is given either a standard treatment for the disease or a placebo.

DIAGNOSTIC TRIALS: Refers to trials that are are conducted to find better tests or procedures for diagnosing a particular disease or condition. Diagnostic trials usually include people who have signs or symptoms of the disease or condition being studied.

DOSE-RANGING STUDY: A clinical trial in which two or more doses of an agent (such as a drug) are tested against each other to determine which dose works best and is least harmful.

DOUBLE-BLIND STUDY: A clinical trial design in which neither the participating individuals nor the study staff knows which participants are receiving the experimental drug and which are receiving a placebo (or another therapy). Double-blind trials are thought to produce objective results, since the expectations of the doctor and the participant about the experimental drug do not affect the outcome; also called double-masked study. See Blinded Study, Single-Blind Study, and Placebo.

EFFICACY: (Of a drug or treatment). The maximum ability of a drug or treatment to produce a result regardless of dosage. A drug passes efficacy trials if it is effective at the dose tested and against the illness for which it is prescribed.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: Summary criteria for participant selection; includes Inclusion and Exclusion criteria. (See Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria)

EMPIRICAL: Based on experimental data, not on a theory.

ENDPOINT: Overall outcome that the protocol is designed to evaluate. Common endpoints are severe toxicity, disease progression, or death.

EPIDEMIOLOGY: The branch of medical science that deals with the study of incidence and distribution and control of a disease in a population..

INCLUSION/EXCLUSION CRITERIA: The medical or social standards determining whether a person may or may not be allowed to enter a clinical trial. These criteria are based on such factors as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions. It is important to note that inclusion and exclusion criteria are not used to reject people personally, but rather to identify appropriate participants and keep them safe.

IND: See Investigational New Drug.

INFORMED CONSENT: The process of learning the key facts about a clinical trial before deciding whether or not to participate. It is also a continuing process throughout the study to provide information for participants. To help someone decide whether or not to participate, the doctors and nurses involved in the trial explain the details of the study.

INFORMED CONSENT DOCUMENT: A document that describes the rights of the study participants, and includes details about the study, such as its purpose, duration, required procedures, and key contacts. Risks and potential benefits are explained in the informed consent document. The participant then decides whether or not to sign the document. Informed consent is not a contract, and the participant may withdraw from the trial at any time.

INTENT TO TREAT: Analysis of clinical trial results that includes all data from participants in the groups to which they were randomized ( See Randomization) even if they never received the treatment.

INTERVENTION NAME: The generic name of the precise intervention being studied.

INTERVENTIONS: Primary interventions being studied: types of interventions are Drug, Gene Transfer, Vaccine, Behavior, Device, or Procedure.

INVESTIGATIONAL NEW DRUG: A new drug, antibiotic drug, or biological drug that is used in a clinical investigation. It also includes a biological product used in vitro for diagnostic purposes.

MASKED: The knowledge of intervention assignment. See Blind

PEER REVIEW: Review of a clinical trial by experts chosen by the study sponsor. These experts review the trials for scientific merit, participant safety, and ethical considerations.

PHARMACOKINETICS: The processes (in a living organism) of absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of a drug or vaccine.

PHASE I TRIALS: Initial studies to determine the metabolism and pharmacologic actions of drugs in humans, the side effects associated with increasing doses, and to gain early evidence of effectiveness; may include healthy participants and/or patients.

PHASE II TRIALS: Controlled clinical studies conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the drug for a particular indication or indications in patients with the disease or condition under study and to determine the common short-term side effects and risks.

PHASE III TRIALS: Expanded controlled and uncontrolled trials after preliminary evidence suggesting effectiveness of the drug has been obtained, and are intended to gather additional information to evaluate the overall benefit-risk relationship of the drug and provide and adequate basis for physician labeling.

PLACEBO: A placebo is an inactive pill, liquid, or powder that has no treatment value. In clinical trials, experimental treatments are often compared with placebos to assess the treatment's effectiveness. In some studies, the participants in the control group will receive a placebo instead of an active drug or treatment. No sick participant receives a placebo if there is a known beneficial treatment. (See Placebo Controlled Study).

PLACEBO CONTROLLED STUDY: A method of investigation of drugs in which an inactive substance (the placebo) is given to one group of participants, while the drug being tested is given to another group. The results obtained in the two groups are then compared to see if the investigational treatment is more effective in treating the condition.

PLACEBO EFFECT: A physical or emotional change, occurring after a substance is taken or administered, that is not the result of any special property of the substance. The change may be beneficial, reflecting the expectations of the participant and, often, the expectations of the person giving the substance.

PRECLINICAL: Refers to the testing of experimental drugs in the test tube or in animals - the testing that occurs before trials in humans may be carried out.

PROTOCOL: A study plan on which all clinical trials are based. The plan is carefully designed to safeguard the health of the participants as well as answer specific research questions. A protocol describes what types of people may participate in the trial; the schedule of tests, procedures, medications, and dosages; and the length of the study. While in a clinical trial, participants following a protocol are seen regularly by the research staff to monitor their health and to determine the safety and effectiveness of their treatment (See Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria).

RANDOMIZATION: A method based on chance by which study participants are assigned to a treatment group. Randomization minimizes the differences among groups by equally distributing people with particular characteristics among all the trial arms. The researchers do not know which treatment is better. From what is known at the time, any one of the treatments chosen could be of benefit to the participant

RANDOMIZED TRIAL: A study in which participants are randomly (i.e., by chance) assigned to one of two or more treatment arms of a clinical trial. Occasionally placebos are utilized.

RISK-BENEFIT RATIO: The risk to individual participants versus the potential benefits. The risk/benefit ratio may differ depending on the condition being treated.

SIDE EFFECTS: Any undesired actions or effects of a drug or treatment. Negative or adverse effects may include headache, nausea, hair loss, skin irritation, or other physical problems. Experimental drugs must be evaluated for both immediate and long-term side effects (See Adverse Reaction).

SINGLE-BLIND STUDY: A study in which one party, either the investigator or participant, is unaware of what medication the participant is taking; also called single-masked study. (See Blind and Double-Blind Study).

SINGLE-MASKED STUDY: See Single-Blind Study.

STANDARDS OF CARE: Treatment regimen or medical management based on state of the art participant care.

STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The probability that an event or difference occurred by chance alone. In clinical trials, the level of statistical significance depends on the number of participants studied and the observations made, as well as the magnitude of differences observed.

STUDY ENDPOINT: A primary or secondary outcome used to judge the effectiveness of a treatment.

STUDY TYPE: The primary investigative techniques used in an observational protocol; types are Purpose, Duration, Selection, and Timing.

TOXICITY: An adverse effect produced by a drug that is detrimental to the participant's health. The level of toxicity associated with a drug will vary depending on the condition which the drug is used to treat.

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