Clinical research trials move knowledge forward
Can you help advance medical research by eating muffins? If you participate in a clinical research trial, perhaps you can.
A clinical research trial is an essential phase of the research process. It allows researchers to test their theories and their laboratory discoveries on human subjects. Such studies are required before new medical devices, medications, vaccines, and supplements are accepted by the medical community and brought to market.
As a Principal Investigator with the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM), clinical trials are at the core of Dr. Heather Blewett’s work. Based at St. Boniface Hospital’s Albrechtsen Research Centre, CCARM investigates the potential health-related benefits of nutraceuticals, functional foods, and natural health products. “CCARM looks at crops grown in Canada and the impact they could have,” says Dr. Blewett. “The work is important for improving people’s health and also for Canadian agriculture.
The goal is to be able to prove specific impacts on health so food producers can make accurate health claims to consumers.” A current trial is trying to prove whether ground flax seed can lower LDL cholesterol. Forty participants who meet very specific criteria are required to eat a muffin a day for three phases of four weeks each. Some muffins have no ground flax, some have 20 grams of ground flax, and some have 30 grams. Participants need to visit St. Boniface Hospital several times over five months for blood and urine testing.
This trial follows Dr. Blewett’s previous study on soy, which also involved muffins, and coincides with clinical trials involving peas and barley. Trial participants are usually compensated for their time with a small honorarium, but Dr. Blewett says the participants she has met are not doing it for the money: “They want to make a difference in their own health and in the health of others.” According to Dr. Blewett, launching and successfully completing a clinical trial can take a great deal of time – even years. Researchers need to apply for funding, seek approvals, train staff, recruit subjects, and then actually conduct the study. Then, results need to be analyzed and a report published. Sometimes the work will prove a theory about the impact of a particular food; other times, a trial refutes a theory. “It’s all right when that happens, because we are still adding to the knowledge base,” says Dr. Blewett. “And it wouldn’t be research if we already knew the answer.”
To learn more about current CCARM trials, see www.sbrc.ca/clinical-research/clinical-trials-research/.
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