Few of us give a second thought to popping an aspirin or any other over-the-counter painkiller for a minor ache or pain. Yet, this simple act wouldn’t be possible without the field of biomedical research.
Every parent can breathe easier knowing that there are vaccines against measles, whooping cough, polio, chickenpox, mumps, tetanus, and many other childhood diseases. Our modern world also affords us medication to help control diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other life threatening conditions.
Part of any thorough research method is the clinical trial or the testing of a medication, vaccine or health recommendation. Clinical trials have a quirky history.
The first recorded instance of a clinical trial took place in 562 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar, who was not a scientist, wanted his people in top physical condition. He ordered them to consume only meat and wine, believing these to be the most nutritious foods.
Several vegetable lovers persuaded him to be allowed to eat legumes and water instead. After 10 days the legume and water group was clearly healthier and were allowed to continue their diet. Thus, the first public health recommendation was issued.
In 1747, what is considered to be the first legitimate clinical trial took place aboard a British Navy ship. Conducted by Dr. James Lind, a Scottish Physician, in an effort to cure scurvy. Over 2 million sailors died of this malady. Purple bruises were the first signs of the disease, and if left untreated it led to death after six weeks of suffering.
Dr. Lind divided 12 afflicted sailors into 6 pairs. The 6 remedies on trial were: cider, a solution of sulfuric acid and alcohol, sea water, a paste of garlic, mustard and horseradish, vinegar and the last 2 sailors received lemons and oranges.
These two sailors were well in less than a week. However, citrus was expensive and it took another 50 years before the Navy was able to provide lemon juice to their sailors and scurvy was eradicated from life at sea.
Today’s research and clinical trials are very different. Most medicines require 10 years of precision research, with an average of 6-7 years of trials. On top of this time investment, it is not uncommon for medicines to cost around $2.6 billion to develop.
Biomedical research continues to make strides in the fields of aging, cancer, diabetes, genetics, immunology, neuroscience, and virology.
Despite the time and monetary costs, most will agree that the value of biomedical research is worthwhile each time a life is saved, suffering is diminished or a disease is prevented.