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Know the Science: 9 Questions To Help You Make Sense of Health Research

2. What were the goals of the study?

Basic research aims to understand fundamental biological processes, or the mechanisms by which a treatment might affect the body.

Translational research aims to create the “building blocks” of information necessary for rigorous investigation of the effects and safety of an intervention in human clinical trials. Both basic and translational research may employ studies done in the laboratory, or with volunteers in a clinical setting.

Clinical trials aim at testing whether an intervention is useful and safe in humans. They may vary in size and type.

  • Preliminary, exploratory, or pilot studies provide essential stepping stones of information about the potential safety and usefulness of an intervention, and help scientists determine whether to perform larger, more definitive clinical trials.
  • Well-planned clinical trials give the clearest information about whether a treatment or a lifestyle change is effective and safe. However, because they’re complicated, lengthy, and very, very expensive, they’re usually done only after smaller preliminary studies have been completed and have shown some promise that the treatment may be helpful to patients.

While all studies, from basic to translational to clinical, are extremely important, clinical trials (because they are done in people) are the types of studies you probably hear about most often in the news and can have the most immediate impact on improving health and treating disease. Therefore, the remaining questions focus on clinical trials.