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Celebrating Clinical Trials: From a Shipboard Study Site to Today

by William McEwen

On the 20th of May 1747, a Scottish surgeon named James Lind began a monumental experiment aboard a British Royal Navy ship. His experiment is widely considered to be the first controlled clinical trial conducted in modern times.

Lind divided 12 sailors suffering from scurvy into six pairs. He provided each pair with a different dietary supplement to observe which supplements helped their symptoms. He controlled the variables of the experiment so that all participants were in similar conditions. He chose men with similar symptoms, kept them in the same place, and otherwise gave them a common diet. Lind observed that the pair who received oranges and lemons by far improved the most.

How Lind structured the experiment showed that citrus fruits were definitively the best treatment to prevent scurvy compared to the other options. Though Lind’s findings were not implemented for over forty years, his conclusions held. Once citrus finally became a requirement for the diets of sailors, there were no longer any serious cases of scurvy.

International Clinical Trials Day was launched in 2005 to commemorate Lind’s contributions to research and honor all clinical research professionals every year on May 20. Lind’s clinical trial laid the foundation for modern clinical research. It is an important day to remember and to recognize and thank the research professionals who continue to make strides in improving health and medical treatments.

Research is more important than ever. In the past year, it played an especially valuable role in understanding, preventing, and treating COVID-19. This research occurred under a bright media spotlight that made many aware for the first time of the importance of research and its contributions to society.

Imperial sends a special thank you to our research partners and all research professionals. We celebrate and thank you for discovering new treatments that are safe and effective, as well as finding new ways to detect, diagnose, and reduce the chances of developing diseases.

We celebrate and thank our Imperial family for providing services essential for clinical trials to occur around the world!

Thank you!

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