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Arthritis Health Center

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Arthritis Studies: A Guide for Patients

What Is a Clinical Trial?

A clinical trial is a research program conducted with arthritis patients to evaluate a new medical treatment, drug, or device. The purpose of clinical trials is to find new and improved methods of treating different diseases and special conditions.

Clinical trials make it possible to apply the latest scientific and technological advances in arthritis to patient care. During a clinical trial, doctors use the best available treatment as a standard to evaluate new treatments. The new treatments are considered to be at least as effective or possibly more effective than the standard.

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New arthritis treatment options are first researched in the lab where they are carefully studied in the test tube and in laboratory animals. Only the treatments most likely to work are further evaluated in a small group of people prior to applying them in a larger clinical trial.

When a new medical treatment is studied for the first time in people, it is not known exactly how it will work. With any new treatment, there are possible risks as well as benefits. Clinical trials help doctors determine:

  • If the treatment is safe and effective
  • If the treatment is potentially better than the treatments currently available
  • If the treatment causes side effects
  • If the treatment carries potential risks


Clinical trials are conducted in phases, each designed to find out specific information. Each new phase of a clinical trial builds on information from previous phases.

Participants may be eligible for clinical trials in different phases, depending on their overall condition. Most clinical trial participants take part in phases III and IV.

What Are the Different Phases of a Clinical Trial?

In a phase I clinical trial, the new arthritis treatment being investigated is given to a small number of participants. The researchers determine the best way to give the new treatment and how much of it can be given safely.

Phase II clinical trials determine the effect of an experimental treatment on the particular disease or condition being evaluated. The best dosage is usually determined during this phase, as well.

Phase III clinical trials compare the new treatment with standard arthritis treatments.

Phase IV clinical trials apply the new treatment to general patient care. For example, a new drug that was found effective in a clinical trial may be used together with other effective drugs to treat the particular disease or condition in a select group of patients.

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