How Research Works

Getting well, and staying healthy, requires improved diagnoses, therapies and disease prevention. These advancements may come more quickly when people participate in controlled research called clinical studies. When you participate in clinical studies, you can become actively involved in your own health care, access potential new treatments, receive expert medical care, and advance medical knowledge all while helping others.

A Principal Investigator (PI), typically a clinician/physician or behavioral scientist, leads the study, and the research team can include several people with various backgrounds, including other clinicians, physicians and scientists, nurses, social workers, study coordinators, pre- and post-doctoral students, research assistants, and administrators. In addition, an Institutional Review Board reviews ethical standards, protects patient rights and helps ensure the safety of human studies.

The following types of studies are conducted in order to enhance scientific knowledge and improve public health:

  • Treatment studies evaluate new therapies and drug combinations
  • Disease prevention studies find ways to maintain optimal health
  • Diagnostic studies improve tests and procedures
  • Screening studies explore how best to detect diseases and conditions
  • Quality of life studies explore ways to improve comfort and well-being

How to participate


The first step to becoming a participant is to visit Washington University's Research Participant Registry. By registering, you join a database of prospective volunteers. There is no obligation, you may remove or modify your information at any time, and all information is treated confidentially.


Confidential profiles are compared to available studies; your profile must match study criteria such as age, gender, details of your disease, previous treatment history, and so on. If you do match, a study coordinator will contact you. A consent form explains the study, the risks involved, and what may happen to you if you participate, although you may choose not to at any time. Before enrolling, learn all you can about the study and its goals, discuss it with family, friends, and your personal physician, meet a member of the research team, and carefully weigh the risks vs. benefits. If you qualify, YOU decide whether to join a study.