Mr. Smith’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. When he came to see me in my office, he wanted what most sons want. “I know there is no cure for my mother, but I want to be sure that I give her every opportunity to get better,” he told me.
My answer: “If you want your mother to receive the newest treatment, that comes in the form of a clinical research trial.”
As the medical director of the Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center, I understand that each clinical research trial is structured in a way that allows physicians to objectively evaluate the usefulness and side effects of a particular treatment. Mr. Smith wanted to know why an objective evaluation of a treatment is so important. The answer lies at the core of the history of medicine.
For years, we took for granted that approaches to treatment that appear to make either scientific or common sense would be useful. Over time we have learned that many approaches that appear to be clearly rational and would seem to be helpful, tend to be ineffective or even detrimental. On the other hand, some treatments that might appear to be of no use at a certain time turn out later to be of critical importance.
For example, people used to believe that the more you ate the healthier you were because you received more nutrients. Being heavy was considered a sign of health. Through research, we learned excessive weight is the cause of many chronic disorders and is far from “healthy.”
In another example, doctors and the public used to consider cardiac surgery a critical intervention in the treatment of heart disease while exercise was viewed as a less important intervention. Through research, we have learned that the usefulness of cardiac surgery is substantially diminished if a lifestyle change, such as regular exercise, does not also take place.
As a research physician I know that most people will never see all of the benefits that research provides. I also know how important it is for people to support and participate in clinical research trials if we are to continue to advance the field of medicine. Many people suffer from diseases and conditions that currently have no cure and/or ineffective treatments. Research is the only way we can one day provide relief, support, hope and potential cures for them.
Take Alzheimer’s disease, for example. What would happen if you started having concerns about changes in your memory? If you couldn’t think the way you once did, your senses were off and your mood changed frequently, causing you frustration and agitation? This is very common for people who are suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A simple memory screening can help determine if there is a problem.
Memory screenings are important because an early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s provides opportunities to get involved with clinical trials where patients are treated with the latest technology and research. Safety, side effects and effectiveness are continually observed, and it’s very probable that patients will be able to preserve and prolong many of their remaining functions. An added benefit is that people who undergo Alzheimer’s research studies at the CBRI generally do so at no cost to them.