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The role of children and young people in medical research

August 28, 2020 4:34 am

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Medical research for children and young people is of crucial importance to improve medical treatment in children, both in terms of treatments available and making a correct diagnosis. This can boost innovative discoveries and the general health and well-being of children and adults.

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Specialised Age-Appropriate Research

Roughly 50% of the medications used to treat children and young people have not been properly tried and tested in the aforementioned age groups. Instead, there is a reliance on the information obtained from testing carried out on adults.

The reliance on adult medical research can be safe but is not always accurate as children are not just small-scale adults and their absorption of medication and its bioavailability differs greatly. This is made even more evident in babies born prematurely.

There are also many diseases that only occur in early childhood or in children and have no comparable diseases that can be found in adults. Therefore, extra emphasis must be placed on carrying out medical research in the correct age group on these childhood-only illnesses.

Safety Precautions

Before testing medications on children and young people, they are typically tested in adults. Trial safety is of paramount importance and the primary thought in the construction of every step of the trial. These safety measures are also usually explained to a study’s participants, especially in paid research studies where financial gain may be an incentive.

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It is worth noting that the ethical implication of children taking part in paid research studies, and these incentives must be carefully and thoroughly thought out. Parents or guardians should rightfully be compensated for their time, but the risk, however small, will be to the child. This is a minefield that most paid research studies handle very well, whether it’s through interviewing volunteers, questionnaires or any other study parameters they put in place.

In the past, the focus on safeguarding children from the possible harms of research may have denied them some of the potential benefits down the line and could have delayed development in preventative treatments of early-onset adult diseases. It is especially important to weigh the outcome of the study against any potential risks. The responsibility of the trial facilitator is to ensure that all risks are considered and limited and that all participants are well informed of the potential risks.

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