Clinical research sounds a bit complicated, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s something people do in school, or you’re not really sure what it is. That’s okay, we can explain.

Clinical research is a branch of medical science that determines the safety and effectiveness of new medicines and treatments. The way that this determination is done is through clinical trials, thus where we get the name — clinical research. Clinical research doesn’t just cover trials, although trials are a necessary step for getting new practices into the medical world. Instead, it covers every step in the process of getting new medicine and treatment out there, from the genesis of the treatment to testing out that treatment to finally, the introduction into everyday medicine.

In the United States, all medicine and treatments must be proven valid by the Food and Drug Administration. Maybe your grandma’s cure for a head cold was to give you a hot toddy — but if you became a doctor and tried to patent that as a treatment, you’d have a long way to go with the FDA. While there are treatments out on the market that are unverified by the FDA, these are almost always natural remedies (herbs and other ingredients) and many doctors will not prescribe these. Therefore, to find major mainstream medical success, the FDA is a crucial part.

What’s the other crucial part? Finding people who are willing to participate in clinical trials — that’s what moves medicine along, after all. Once a trial has been approved by the FDA, and the results are promising, then that medicine (or treatment) is on its way to helping everyone.

It might sound complicated, and it can be! Maybe it seems like there’s new medicine and treatments every day, but the majority of those have spent a long time in clinical development and research to make sure that they’re legitimate.