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Learning About Medical Studies Just Got Easier

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WebMD Health News

March 1, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Two years after learning she had ovarian cancer, after countless chemotherapy rounds, Elaine Beckman learned that her oncologist had discovered a spot on her liver. She had surgery, but when the disease recurred in 1998, she began looking into other options -- specifically, taking part in a clinical trial. She wound her way through web site after web site, trying to find the information she needed.

Clinical trials, as Beckman learned, are medical studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, medical procedures, and other ways of diagnosing, treating, or preventing diseases. Trials are conducted by government agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or by privately funded sources like pharmaceutical companies.

"It wasn't just even that it was physically tiring, it was too emotionally overwhelming. There's just so much out there. Like my doctor said, it's not like you won't find anything. The hard part is sifting through all of it, figuring out what's pertinent, what's not," Beckman tells WebMD from her home in Springfield, Ill.

Through a web site launched today, the NIH is helping thousands of patients like Beckman find clinical trials that might benefit their treatment. More than 350 diseases and conditions are covered by the site -- cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and many more.

The first phase of the consumer-focused site contains information on more than 4,000 federal and private medical studies involving patients and volunteers at more than 47,000 locations across the U.S. Over the next year, clinical trials from other federal and private agencies will be posted on the site. The address is http://clinicaltrials.gov/.

"The intent is to provide one-stop shopping, one place where you could come for clinical trials information. It is a system for patients and family members. Health care providers will and should use it, too," Alexa McRay, PhD, director of the project at the National Library of Medicine, tells WebMD.

The home page presents the first opportunity for conducting a search -- and is probably the best bet for a layperson's first start, says McRay. Visitors can also browse by disease name or condition, a more advanced search that requires some knowledge of medical terminology. "It's very targeted information about your specific disease," she adds.

At points along the searches, links are offered to the National Library of Medicine's consumer health information service, MEDLINE Plus, which has extensive disease-specific information -- diagnosis, therapies, support groups -- much of it provided by the NIH institutes and centers. Phone numbers and email addresses of principal investigators for each clinical trial are also included.

"What makes the most sense -- or what we hope will happen -- is that people will take this information to their doctors. Eligibility criteria are quite specific, so their doctors probably will be the ones to make the call to see if patients are eligible," McRay says.

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