RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You may have heard the ads on the radio. Local research centers looking for participants in clinical trials. The myths associated with clinical trials can make them seem as exciting as a quick and easy pay day, to as terrible as becoming a lab rat for a group of angry scientists.
In reality the research is vital to the discovery of new medical breakthroughs and as always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
For Charlene Shepard, the idea of participating in a clinical trial was something that literally kept popping in her head.
"It was almost like a wake up call for me, it was like someone was telling me call and find out." said Shepard.
In the months after the death of her mother, Charlene found herself suffering from debilitating mood swings. It was something she couldn't control. Nothing seemed to be working, until she heard ads for the VCU program on the radio.
"I wanted to be more of, let's find out whats going on in your body, lets find out what those changes are." Shepard said.
Charlene is like millions of americans, and hundreds of people in the Richmond area who agree to participate in experiments designed to find medical breakthroughs. Dr. Susan Kornstein helps to develop trials at VCU and believes it presents incredible opportunity for people in need.
"The places that are doing clinical trials are going to be offering cutting edge treatments." said Kornstein.
And indeed, clinical trial patients are offered an incredible number of benefits. In addition to access to specialized medical care often given free of charge, patients are checked on regularly to keep a close eye on their progress.
But not everyone is the right candidate for this type of research and it does not come without some risk.
"Since these are new and developing treatments, not all of the risks may be known." Kornstein said.
And according to the National Institutes of Health, those risks range from mild or severe discomfort to the risk of permament problems or even death.
But when the right person finds the right situation, the results can be life changing. Something Charlene learned first-hand.
"It opened my eyes up to what I needed to do to take better care of my body." said Shepard.
The most important step you should take before embarking on a clinical trial is to ask the right questions and do your research. The National Institutes of Health has an exhaustive list of resources to help prepare you before taking that step. We've put a link to that information, just click on All Access.