8 Jun 2018
Dr. James Lind (1761–1794) is widely considered to be the first person, or at least one of the first, to have run a controlled clinical trial. While working on the British naval ship Salisbury, Lind was shocked by the high prevalence and mortality of scurvy among the sailors, a condition marked by pain, fatigue, malaise, bleeding gums and rashes. Earlier on, others had suggested that eating citrus fruits (vitamins were not yet understood) could prevent or cure scurvy. Lind decided to do an experiment. He took 12 sailors with scurvy and divided them into six pairs. Two of those pairs received citrus (oranges and lemons or cider). Other pairs received various non-citrus treatments including elixir of vitriol, vinegar, seawater and spicy paste with barley water. The two sailors given oranges and lemons made full, or near full, recoveries. Those who had cider showed some improvement, while the other groups showed none. Lind’s findings eventually led to a new way to treat and prevent scurvy, and greatly improved the lives of seafarers around the world. Lind’s experiment, while simple by today’s standards, illustrates the overall aim of clinical research, which is to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a treatment, medical procedure or device in humans. Today, clinical trials are a much more refined and regulated process that typically is broken into three phases, each serving a distinct purpose.In the second installment in our multi-part series on how a new medication moves from the lab to the doctor’s office, we take a look at clinical trials, a crucial step in this process. Stay tuned for part three, which will explore the exciting clinical research spearheaded by Van Andel Research Institute scientists and collaborators.