Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Participating in Health Research Studies

Countway Library Guide to Participating in Health Research

Types of Health Research

Behavioral Studies

These are studies that test how people act in different ways.

Clinical Trials

These are studies of a drug, surgery, or medical device in healthy volunteers or people who have a specific disease. See below for more information.

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR)

This is research that engages community partners as equal participants in the research.

Genetic Studies

These are studies to find the role of genes in different diseases.

Observational Studies

These are studies in which a group of people is observed for many years.

Physiological Studies

These are studies to better understand how the human body functions.

Prevention Studies

These are studies that test ways to prevent specific conditions or diseases.

Public Health Research

This type of research can be one or a combination of the types of research mentioned above. Public health research tries to improve the health and well-being of people from a population-level perspective.

More Information about Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are often done in a "randomized" way. These are sometimes called RCTs for "randomized clinical trials." In an RCT, some people will be chosen at random to receive a treatment or intervention, such as a new drug. The rest of the participants will be given a "placebo," such as a sugar pill. In other cases, when two interventions are being compared, one group will receive one of the interventions and the other group will be given a different one. Some clinical trials are also "blinded." This means that both the volunteers and the doctors do not know if people are taking the new medicine or the placebo. Only at the end of the study will this be revealed. Since people are chosen at random (similar to a coin toss) in an RCT, people who receive the treatment should be no different than those who do not. For instance, there should be an equal number of males who receive treatment compared with those who do not. This helps reduce bias due to something like gender in a study.

New drugs are first developed in research labs, and then tested in animals. Only then are clinical studies done in humans. Clinical trials of new drugs are done in different phases:

  • Phase I studies test a new drug for the first time in a small group of people (about 20-80) to see if it safe, to find the right dose, and to know the side effects.
  • Phase II studies are done in more people (about 100-300) to see how well the new drug treats a disease.
  • Phase III studies are done in large groups of people (about 1000 to 3000) to see if the new drug works well, has side effects, and how it compares to other drugs.
  • Phase IV studies are done after the treatment is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

         Countway Three Shield Logo   

Countway Library
10 Shattuck St, Boston MA 02115 | (617) 432-2136

Harvard Library | Privacy Policy | Harvard Digital Accessibility Policy
Copyright © 2020 President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.