AIDS: Finding Better Treatments With Your Help

What are Clinical Trials?

Doctors have learned a lot in a short time about how to help people living with HIV. But more and better drugs are needed. Research studies known as clinical trials are a key step in finding them. A new drug goes through careful testing before doctors use it to treat people who are sick. First, it is tested in labs and in animals. If these tests show promise, people begin to take it. When a drug is tested in people, the test is called a clinical trial. These tests show whether a new drug is safe in people and whether it helps them to get better.

Clinical Trials Have Already Helped People With AIDS

Not long ago, we had almost no drugs to treat people who have HIV. Today, we have drugs that help people who have AIDS, or who have some signs of AIDS, live longer; help people who have HIV, but who are not yet sick, stay well longer; and treat or prevent problems caused by infections related to AIDS, such as pneumonia and blindness. These drugs were proven to work because people with HIV helped test them.

How Can You Help?

Most studies today compare a new drug or set of drugs with the one now being used to see which treatment works better. Study doctors are looking for men, women, and children to help test new drugs for HIV. You may want to think about joining a study if you: have HIV; have some early symptoms of AIDS (sometimes called ARC), such as fever, wollen glands, or diarrhea; have AIDS.

Clinical Trials: Pros and Cons


People in a study may be the first to be helped, if a new drug is shown to work. People in a study get very good health care. Some costs are paid. Joining means taking action to try to help yourself. You have a chance to help others with HIV.


A study may involve a lot of time, tests, and changes in your schedule. The new treatment may not work, or it may not help you as much as it helps others. The treatment may be harmful; it could make you get worse instead of better. The drug may have side effects that make you feel worse. Many studies are done in clinics at large hospitals. Most people who take part live nearby. Others move or travel to the clinics to receive their treatment. In some cases, people can also join research studies at smaller clinics near where they live.

All studies have rules about who can take part. Before you can join, you will first have some medical tests to be sure you are right for the study.

Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, March 1997

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