Health Watch -- Medical Research

Health Watch is a Public Service of the   Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Almost every day, the results of some medical study make the news. Have you ever wondered how this research is conducted?

There are different kinds of medical research. In laboratory research, scientists work on tissues, blood and other substances. This is where scientists see how cells react to drugs or where they find the genetic sequences involved in various diseases. Once scientists develop a drug, treatment or theory, they may conduct clinical research to see how a process works in people. Scientists have to conduct clinical research very carefully, in a controlled environment. They have to make sure that any effects they observe are the result of whatever is being studied rather than because of other, unrelated factors.

Needless to say, this kind of research can be complicated and expensive. It takes specialized nursing staff to take samples and track patients progress, dietitians to plan and supervise a standardized diet.

UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas operates a General Clinical Research Center to help scientists conduct clinical research. This center has all the staff and facilities that might be needed for a variety of clinical research studies, and it's available for investigators throughout the medical center. That way, each researcher doesn't have to fund the staff and facilities for each of their projects.

Let's look at how different kinds of clinical studies are done. At medical centers like UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, there are often centralized research facilities. UT Southwestern has a General Clinical Research Center that can be used by scientists when they need to study a drug, treatment, condition or disease in humans.

Some studies require patients to stay in the hospital, so the center offers hospital rooms. One UT Southwestern study focuses on the effects of space travel, which is similar to long-term bed rest, so patients participating in this kind of study stay in the center's hospital beds. Other studies just require patients to come in to be checked and to have samples taken, so the center offers outpatient clinic facilities and personnel to take and process lab samples.

Many studies are done to observe the effects of diet on health.

UT Southwestern researchers have studied the effects of high-protein diets, different kinds of low-fat diets and high-fiber diets. The center has a dietitian on staff to help plan these study diets and to supervise preparation of food for these studies.

Then, to provide the final results, all the study data has to be organized and processed. A computer data center helps generate the study statistics. Next time you take medicine, think about what went into discovering and testing it.