The Truth Behind Medical Clinical Trials

IMG_7513I haven’t really ever had any real-life experience with clinical trials for a new drug or medical treatment.  I have had family friends, usually those undergoing a condition where current treatment wasn’t as effective as hoped, try them.  In one case, a family friend believes it was the clinical trial treatment that sent her dad’s illness into remission.  Another friend, a neighbor, credits a clinical trial for prolonging her husband’s life just a little longer.

Otherwise I have always been more familiar with clinical trials from hearing them advertised across the radio or television offering compensation for those who take part.  And that, to be honest, has always seemed a little scary to me.

But I’ve recently come to see clinical trials in a new light.

In part, because I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and interview Dr. Paul Ratner, a leading San Antonio Medical Researcher.

You might be most familiar with Dr. Ratner’s pollen reports.  He practiced Allergy and Immunology for many years in San Antonio.  Today, he focuses on medical advancement, having been a part of hundreds of clinical trials – one of which even produced a vaccine your children most likely received.

Savvy Media is proud to partner with Dr. Ratner, and, introduce him in this very personal guest post on The Truth Behind Clinical Trials And Why They’re Important To Me (As A Physician And Father).


Dr. Paul Ratner

It’s not often I talk about my personal life.  However, outside of being a physician and clinical researcher, I am also a father to four, including a set of twins.

Today, the twins are 13.

As a parent raising twins, you are often asked, ‘How do you do it?’.

Honestly, raising twins, as my wife will emphatically confirm, isn’t always easy.  Often, I like to say it’s delightfully crazy.  And sometimes, it’s just plain crazy.

That could not ring more true, perhaps, than during a brief period when the twins were infants and contracted the Rotavirus.

If you’re not already familiar with the Rotavirus, it is the leading cause of dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children.  A child with Rotavirus will often have loose stools and diarrhea for anywhere from nine to 12 days!

When our twins got the Rotavirus, diarrhea was everywhere.  Twice the number of sheets were constantly being changed, as were clothing sets.  While that was enough to turn any parent’s hair gray, even more concerning was the medical danger of dehydration that often comes into play with the Rotavirus.  I was traveling at the time and will never forget my wife calling me and directing me to meet her at the hospital.

Fortunately, for my son and daughter, after a short hospital stay and treatment, both recovered from the Rotavirus.  My wife and I, on the other hand, aren’t sure we ever did!

Fast forward to 2009.  After years of following my personal experience with the Rotavirus and working in clinical research, I was asked to work on a study for a Rotavirus vaccine.

That vaccine went on to be FDA approved, and today, has markedly reduced the number of incidences of the disease.

To think parents today do not have to go through what my wife and I did, what our twins did with the Rotavirus, thanks to a clinical trial that helped produce a vaccine, is nothing short of amazing.

It is just one example of the many clinical trials that eventually pave the way to major medical advancement.

Participating in a clinical trial can bring with it several benefits.  For example, a participant may gain access to new treatments that are not available to the public.  As a patient in a clinical trial, you may obtain expert medical care at a leading health care facility.  You get to play an active role in your own health care, you often get paid or receive a treatment or drug at no cost, and, in the larger picture, participating in a clinical trial offers you the opportunity to help others by contributing to medical research.

Yet a lot of people hear the words clinical trial and they want no part.  To participate in something that is not yet mainstream, something new, or, something that has not yet been FDA approved can be frightening for some, understandably.  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are risks.  There may be unpleasant, serious, or even life-threatening side effects from treatment.  The treatment may not be effective for some.  The study could require your time and sometimes a study or treatment does not compensate.

In my experience, having been a part of over 800 studies, I think there’s a little more going on that creates such a stigma attached to clinical trials.  I sometimes see a mistrust of the pharmaceutical companies and their economic motivation behind gaining the approval of new drugs as a factor.  I get that.  However, at this time, there is no other regulatory pathway to approval other than clinical trials.  I understand that sometimes the pharmaceutical industry comes under fire, however, without the pharmaceuticals sponsoring these trials there would be little development of new drugs.

I first became involved with clinical research as a fellow at UT Health Science Center in 1982.  The studies in which I have been a part of have influenced the creation of Asthma, Allergy, COPD and Psoriasis.  Even when I retired from private practice in 2007, I continued with clinical trials.  Working in research allows me to still interact with patients as well as pharmaceutical sponsors.  I am involved in the entire process from advising on medical protocol to the recruitment plan and execution of the actual trial.  Seeing a clinical trial through – start to finish – brings me such a sense of personal satisfaction.  The idea that I may play this small role in the advancement of medicine and even more importantly, improving someone’s quality of life, is the ultimate reward.

IMG_7537Currently, I am most excited about a new drug being studied here in San Antonio to treat peanut allergy.IMG_7534  It is a peanut powder case study, currently in phase three and being tested on patients who have reacted to peanut a good part of their lives. It has a lot of promise.  In fact, I suspect we will see this treatment available for market in the next few years.

Considering that roughly one in 30, today,  have peanut allergy and how profoundly having this life-threatening allergy affects entire families – to think we could have a treatment that would better protect them from a dangerous reaction when peanut is accidentally ingested, is exciting!  We are currently looking for people for this peanut powder study.  For more information on whether you might qualify, click here or call me to talk more about it, at, 210-614-6673.

If the peanut powder or another drug like it is approved, it would stand out, to me, as a clinical trial that proved to be truly life-changing.

Much like the Rotavirus vaccine.

~ Dr. Paul Ratner

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