Why is health research important?

The development of new medical treatments and cures would not happen without health research and the active role of research volunteers. Behind every discovery of a new medicine and treatment are thousands of people who were involved in health research. Thanks to the advances in medical care and public health, we now live on average 10 years longer than in the 1960's and 20 years longer than in the 1930's. Without research, many diseases that can now be treated would cripple people or result in early death. New drugs, new ways to treat old and new illnesses, and new ways to prevent diseases in people at risk of developing them, can only result from health research.

Before health research was a part of health care, doctors would choose medical treatments based on their best guesses, and they were often wrong. Now, health research takes the guesswork out. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all new medicines are fully tested before doctors can prescribe them. Many things that we now take for granted are the result of medical studies that have been done in the past. For instance, blood pressure pills, vaccines to prevent infectious diseases, transplant surgery, and chemotherapy are all the result of research.

Medical research often seems much like standard medical care, but it has a distinct goal. Medical care is the way that your doctors treat your illness or injury. Its only purpose is to make you feel better and you receive direct benefits. On the other hand, medical research studies are done to learn about and to improve current treatments. We all benefit from the new knowledge that is gained in the form of new drugs, vaccines, medical devices (such as pacemakers) and surgeries. However, it is crucial to know that volunteers do not always receive any direct benefits from being in a study. It is not known if the treatment or drug being studied is better, the same, or even worse than what is now used. If this was known, there would be no need for any medical studies.

Former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni shows the importance of participation in health research by donating blood. Read more about Dr. Zerhouni's perspective on the value of medical research.