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Updated 1:00 PM October 4, 2005
 

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One-stop shopping: Site connects public to studies

From cancer and heart disease to rare disorders, U-M is one of the world's largest centers for studies of new medical treatments and ideas. Each year, thousands of people take part in University studies, helping researchers test new drugs and devices or learn about the body and brain.

But U-M researchers need many more volunteers—and it often has been hard for them to find the right people for their studies, or for patients to find a study that needs them. Not any more.

The U-M Health System (UMHS) has launched a Web site that provides one-stop public access to studies taking place around the University.

Called Engage, http://www.umengage.org, the site currently includes studies from UMHS, including the Medical School. Soon, it will expand to include studies from other areas of U-M, including the schools of Public Health, Nursing, Dentistry and others that conduct research studies that need human participants.

With a few clicks of the mouse, patients with any medical condition—and healthy people who want to volunteer—can search the Engage database for studies that need people like them. They can get details on what each study involves, what kinds of people are needed, and a phone number or e-mail address to learn more.

The site should make it much easier for the public and doctors to find studies, and for U-M researchers to perform their research, says Dr. Dan Clauw, director of the Center for the Advancement of Clinical Research (CACR), which led the Engage project.

"Individuals can type in a key word that can either be a disease or something like 'pain,' and Engage will allow them to search for clinical research studies at U-M that are actively enrolling participants," says Clauw, whose own research involves people with painful conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

"Research involving people, which is also called clinical research, makes it possible for new therapies and new ideas to be tested in a controlled way so that we know what works, and what doesn't," he says. "It's also the best way for humans to learn more about ourselves. Tomorrow's medicine and knowledge will be based on the studies we do today, and those studies need people to volunteer to take part."

The Engage site also includes general information on how clinical research studies work, and how U-M ensures that study participants are protected from harm.

Besides having one of the largest assortments of research studies in the world, with more than 1,000 studies taking place at any one time, U-M has strict controls in place to make sure that participants' safety is protected.

Clinical research, Clauw notes, can do many things. It can test how well new drugs or medical devices work. It can study how health care is delivered, or how patients live with certain diseases. It can explore how people, or systems in the body, function.

"Some clinical research studies are extremely simple, and may take just 15 minutes to fill out a survey online or on paper," Clauw explains. "Others may require that people stay overnight in the hospital for a day or two, or take a pill every day, or have a brain scan or blood drawn."

The Engage site contains studies of all kinds, and new ones will be added as they open up, says Dorene Markel, program director for CACR. The listing for each study gives information on what participants will be asked to do if they volunteer and on risks or potential benefits involved.

Clauw says there are several reasons people want to take part in a research study at U-M, even if they don't have a medical condition.

"Some people participate out of altruism—the desire to advance science and help researchers figure out why something happens the way it happens," he says. Some are inspired to volunteer in memory, or in honor, of someone they love who died from, or has, a certain medical condition.

"Others take part because they have a condition that hasn't been effectively treated yet, and they want to see if a new experimental therapy works better than the therapies that are already approved and on the market," he says.

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