What Are the Different Types of Clinical Research?

Clinical research is a broad area of patient care that investigates diseases, diagnostic methods and treatments. This helps develop medical knowledge of how to identify, prevent, treat and manage health conditions.

There are several different types of clinical research that investigators use depending on the main aim of the study. For instance, the aim of one research may be to treat a disease, whilst another might aim to improve the way it is diagnosed. 

Common types of clinical research include treatment research, prevention research and diagnostic research, each of which examine diseases from a unique perspective in order to improve patient care.

This article discusses the different kinds of clinical research, and how they are used to advance different areas of medical knowledge.

What is the difference between clinical trials & clinical research?

The terms clinical trial and clinical research can sometimes be used synonymously, although there are notable differences between the two. 

The main difference between clinical trials and clinical research is that clinical research refers to the broad scientific study of treatments and conditions, and clinical trials refer to the specific study of treatments and conditions in human participants. 

Why do researchers conduct different kinds of clinical research?

There are many reasons for conducting a clinical study, for instance:

  • To identify what causes a disease and its underlying processes
  • To test new treatments and how they affect the condition
  • To develop new diagnostic techniques
  • To improve disease prevention strategies
  • To improve patients’ quality of life

In order to investigate the many different aims of clinical studies, a different research approach is required. Additionally, no two diseases are the same, meaning that researchers must take a tailored approach to researching each unique disease. 

Types of clinical research

Whilst all research is unique and tailored to the requirements of the study and its participants, different types of clinical research can be broadly grouped into the following categories. 

Treatment Research

Treatment research is one of the most common types of clinical research. The main aim of treatment research is to investigate how safe and effective a new development drug is. This kind of research aids the clinical development process, providing empirical research data that proves the drug is safe and effective for human use.

Treatment research is mostly conducted through clinical trials, testing on healthy and patient human volunteers. For instance, one way that researchers test the safety of a drug is through dose escalation clinical trials

As a type of clinical research that investigates new therapies, treatment research can also be carried out to investigate new medical devices, psychotherapies and surgical approaches.

Prevention Research

Prevention research focuses on stopping diseases from developing or recurring. This type of research is different from typical treatment research, in that prevention research aims to investigate how health professionals and patients can reduce the risk of a particular condition occurring, rather than treat the condition once it has occurred.

Prevention strategies can include medicine, vaccine, lifestyle, vitamin and mineral research depending on the type of condition being studied.

Diagnostic Research

Diagnostic research involves clinical studies that investigate improved ways to identify a particular condition. This type of clinical research aims to improve patient lives and medical knowledge with advanced insights into diagnostic methods.  

This can involve the advancement of diagnostic technologies, or a developed understanding of how a particular health condition is formed.

Screening Research

Screening research is similar to diagnostic research, in that it aims to improve the ability to detect diseases and health conditions. For instance, this type of clinical research has been conducted to improve methods of identifying early signs of cancer before the patient experiences symptoms. 

This makes research into screening methods a key aspect of oncology research. Screening trials are usually completed in order to determine how effective the new tests are at detecting particular health conditions. 

Quality of Life Research

Quality of life research aims to find ways to make the lives of people with chronic or terminal illnesses much more comfortable and manageable. Clinical trials in this field usually collect quantitative and qualitative data, applying patient engagement strategies to accurately understand how treatments and interventions may be improving patient lifestyles.

This type of clinical research usually focuses on health conditions where, unfortunately, there are limited treatment options available to patients, as well as conditions that have a more significant impact on patient lifestyles.

Genetic studies

Genetic studies are used to help predict the occurrence of diseases and health conditions with a stronger understanding of the relationship between genes and illnesses. 

This helps researchers identify potential gene variations or mutations that may increase the risk of developing an illness. 

For instance, recent advancements in omics have allowed researchers to investigate the underlying tumour development processes of specific cancer types, examining these processes at a genome-level with translational research. This type of clinical research can lead to more targeted treatments based on the patient’s genetic make-up.

Epidemiological studies

Epidemiological studies investigate the distribution, causes and management of diseases and health conditions in specified populations. This is a type of clinical research that is most often associated with infectious diseases, but can also be applied to the study of non-infectious diseases.

For example, epidemiological studies may investigate how a new infectious disease is spreading, or environmental exposures that may trigger health conditions – such as air pollutants and asthma.

Pilot studies

Before the main clinical development process begins, investigators may firstly conduct a pilot study. Pilot studies are used to test the methods and feasibility of the proposed clinical research. This helps researchers identify potential challenges that may present themselves, and subsequently devise solutions to overcome these challenges.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are a major part of many types of clinical research. Clinical trials are designed to test treatment, prevention, diagnostic, or other types of clinical investigation on human patients and volunteers.

The results from clinical trials provide the basis for new treatment development and marketing, with solid data that proves the treatment is beneficial and is safe for human use. The overall safety and effectiveness cannot be accurately determined until human trials are complete.

Each clinical trial is tailored to the needs of the research. Broadly speaking, there are two main types of clinical trials: interventional and observational.

Interventional studies

Interventional studies are the most common type of clinical trial. Patients are administered a particular intervention or treatment by the trial investigator, which is then monitored and evaluated throughout the trial. 

Clinical trials may investigate a new development drug, medical device, diet change, medical procedures, or other kind of intervention. Researchers will evaluate the safety and effectiveness throughout staged clinical trial phases

Interventional clinical trials can compare new test treatments to existing treatments that are already available. This is to determine whether the new test treatment offers more benefits, or is less of a health risk than the existing standard treatments.

The outcomes of interventional clinical studies are used to determine whether the drug is approved for market use and distribution. 

Observational studies

Observational studies are conducted by investigators to monitor the health outcomes of particular patient groups, without assigning any specific kind of intervention or treatment.

This contrasts the approach of interventional clinical trials, where investigators assign a particular intervention to patients. In observational clinical research, investigators do not intervene. This is used to examine possible cause and effect relationships that can help explain more about the disease. 

For example, observational research may investigate the effects of age on a particular condition. In this case, investigators would monitor different age groups within a patient population and examine the relationship between these variables.

Clinical research with Simbec-Orion

At Simbec-Orion, we have designed and organised an extensive range of clinical studies. As an agile CRO, we deal with complex clinical research projects, devising tailored study designs to help sponsors achieve the research objectives in the best way possible.

Through our agile clinical trial design approach, our team has worked with many types of clinical research, including treatment, diagnostic, quality of life studies and many more. 

Find out more about how we can help you with our clinical research services or speak to an expert.

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