What is medical research?
What is medical research?
Medical research is the scientific process of developing an idea to improve the health and well-being of people. It is often long and complex and involves multiple stages.
In the case of cancer, medical research is vital in discovering new treatments and drugs to improve the quality of life for patients, extend life or even find cures.
How does medical research work?
The very first stage of medical research is identifying a problem and developing ideas to combat the problem. Researchers will then create a plan to study this idea and secure funding. Funding is extremely important because, without it, medical research cannot happen.
Researchers will apply for funding or grants, which can come from the government, individuals, fundraising groups, health and research councils, pharmaceutical, medical device and biotechnology companies, and more. Once funding is secured, researchers can begin their study by collecting data and testing their ideas.
Where is medical research done?
Researchers conduct their study at medical facilities, hospitals, medical research institutions and universities. Pharmaceutical companies, medical device and biotechnology companies, or a combination of these may also be involved in the research and subsequent manufacture of a new medical treatment. If a study proceeds to clinical trials, these will occur mostly in hospitals and research clinics.
Types of medical research
Medical research encompasses a broad range of scientific studies and is split into two types, pre-clinical and clinical research:
Pre-clinical research is a very important part of medical research as it bridges the gap between discovery science and clinical trials. Pre-clinical research is divided between basic research and translational research.
Basic, or discovery research, describes the type of studies that are designed to enhance our understanding of complex concepts and lay the foundation for further research.
Translational research, often called bench-to-bedside research, is what connects basic research, and clinical. Translational research builds upon basic research by bringing specialists and researchers together to refine and advance the application of a proposed medical intervention (for example a new drug or device). As translational research is the last step before clinical research, studies must prove that the new intervention can work in a living host before it can proceed to human trials. To ensure the safety of humans the drug will be tested in animal models. Once the intervention is deemed safe, clinical research begins.
When reading about medical research, you may come across the terms in-vitro and in-vivo. In-vitro means the research takes place ‘in the glass’ (vitro = glass), or in a controlled environment outside of a living organism. In-vivo means the research takes place ‘in the living’ (vivo = living), or in a living organism. Another common term is ex-vivo, meaning ‘outside of the living.’ This refers to research that uses components of living organisms, such as cells or organ tissue, but still happens outside of the living organism. Each type of study has its benefits to the researchers and their studies.
Clinical research evaluates whether a medical intervention, such as a new drug or medical device, can work safely and effectively within patients. To test a medical invention, researchers will use volunteer patients in clinical trials. There are four phases to clinical trials:
- Phase 1 trials test the safety of the drug on small groups.
- Phase 2 trials use a larger group to test the accuracy of phase 1 and the efficacy of the drug.
- Phase 3 trials look at safety and efficacy in a larger population, and
- Phase 4 trials can be run after the new treatment is made available for public use. This phase is not essential for regulatory approval and is called a “post-registration study”. In this phase, the treatment or drug is monitored over time to record side effects in the real world.
Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation suggests patients speak with their doctor if they are interested in participating in a clinical trial. Learn more about clinical trials here, or go to Australian Clinical Trials.
To explain and share their results, researchers will write up a report of their work and submit it for publication. Publishing is an important stage in medical research, as it allows a study to be reviewed and replicated by other researchers in the relevant communities. Publishing helps research to be spread throughout the world, so that is can be communicated and understood. Publishing also helps researchers to ensure further funding for their research.
How long does research take?
Medical research is vital for discovering treatments for medical conditions while ensuring patients stay safe. To ensure the safety of patients and the efficacy of a potential new treatment research can take more than 10-15 years to progress from early-stage through a clinical trial. The time it takes to discover new treatments can be affected by the type of cancer and the number of patients available for clinical trials, the type of treatment, the follow-up period and many other factors.
Why is medical research important?
Medical research is the only way cures and treatments for patients suffering from a disease or condition can be found and then tested to ensure safety and efficacy for patients. Medical research is also pivotal to monitoring current treatments and health care practices so that human health can constantly improve.
Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation understands the importance of research in combating pancreatic cancer. This is why we have established our grants program, put in place our Scientific Advisory Panel of eminent clinicians and researchers, invested in cutting edge research to improve health care for pancreatic cancer patients and established our Pancreatic Cancer Symposiums to bring together researchers from the field to share updates on their research and foster collaboration.
Research Australia, Health and medical research, accessed Jan 2020.
Australian Clinical Trials, How clinical trials work, accessed Jan 2020.
Catalyst Phrma, The drug development and approval process is about much more than the final okay, published Aug 2015, accessed Jan 2020.