Research Subjects
  • Overview
  • Basic Definitions
  • Risks, Rights, Responsibilities, Contacting this IRB
  • Special Considerations

Research subjects—What you should know before you enroll

Participants in research studies perform a very valuable service. However, before enrolling it is a good idea to know what is expected and what is going to take place throughout the clinical trial. Be sure to ask questions and discuss any concerns you might have with the research staff. We compiled the following information to help research participants understand more about clinical trials and what they should expect.

About Research Participation (link to the US Goverment Office for Human Research Protections Research Participation Resources web page) 

Should I Enter a Clinical Trial? (link to ECRI Institute Patient Reference Guide)

Who can I contact with questions or concerns?
  • If you are in a research study reviewed by the Western IRB (WIRB), the consent form includes information about who you can contact.
  • If you have a medical emergency, please call your local emergency number, such as 911.
  • For specific questions about the study or to make appointments, please call the study staff listed in the consent form.
  • You can call a subject representative at WIRB if you have concerns or complaints you would like to talk about with someone who is not working on the study. If you have a study consent form, please have it available during the call. Click here for the WIRB contact page.
  • You can also call a subject representative at WIRB if you have general questions, concerns, or comments about being in studies, or if you have questions about the rights of people in studies. Click here for the WIRB contact page.

Here are a few basic terms you should know:

Clinical trials
The terms "research study" and "clinical trial" generally refer to research that is being done on a drug or device to see if it is safe and effective for use to treat a human disease or condition.

Consent form
The consent form is the document you sign to acknowledge you have been made aware of the risks and responsibilities of participating in research, which should be clearly explained.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)
An IRB is a committee made up of scientists, doctors, and non- scientists who review the research protocol to make sure it is well designed, that the risks to human subjects are as low as possible, and that these risks are reasonable when compared to the possible benefits of the research.

The IRB also reviews the consent form for the research to make sure it is accurate. If it approves the research, the IRB continues to review the research as it progresses. It is important to understand that IRB approval does not mean that a research project is completely safe or that it is right for you. When an IRB approves research, it means the members of the IRB believe that the research has the potential to answer an unanswered scientific question. However, you should look carefully at the details of the research and decide whether it is right for you.

For more information, review our related resources and the Research Subjects section in our FAQ.

Research protocol
The research protocol is a written document that describes in detail how a clinical trial will be conducted, including how the safety and rights of research participants will be protected. It also describes the trial's hypotheses, objectives, methodology, and other information.

Related resources

Risks, rights, responsibilities, and contacting this IRB

Participant considerations
The U.S. government requires that, before a drug or a device can be sold in the U.S., it must be studied in research and the results must show that it is relatively safe and effective for its intended use in humans. If you decide to enter a research study, be sure you know what question the research is trying to answer.

Risks for participants
Joining a research study will usually involve risks, which vary from study to study. The risks should be listed in the consent form, but there can always be unanticipated risks for human research subjects. You can and should ask for more information regarding the listed risks.

Benefits for participants
Sometimes the person who joins a research study will benefit directly, and their disease or problem will be helped. However, the possibility of receiving a benefit varies from study to study, just like the risks. It is important to remember that the main goal of research is to collect information that may help future patients, not the person participating in the research study. You should always ask questions and keep asking until you understand how the research study is different from the treatment you would get outside of the research study.

Responsibilities of human research participants
Research participants also have responsibilities. For example, you will be expected to show up for all scheduled appointments, notify the research study personnel if you have a bad reaction, and follow all instructions. You may also be expected to go in for many more visits than you would with regular care. Therefore, you may have extra costs, such as parking, babysitting, and time off work.

Rights of human research participants
As a research participant or research "subject," you have several rights:
  • You have the right to decide not to participate in the research, and there will be no penalty or loss of benefits.

  • If you decide to participate, you have the right to quit at any time. Again, there will be no penalty or loss of benefits.

  • You have the right to be informed about the research study, without any coercion, undue influence, or pressure. Your written source of information about the research study is usually the consent form. But asking questions about any information that is not clear is important before you make your decision about taking part.

  • You have the right to ask questions before and while you take part in the research study.

  • You have the right to get a copy of the consent form.

  • You do not waive any of your legal rights by joining a research study or signing a consent form.

Contacting this IRB
If you are already participating in a research study, you are encouraged to communicate with the research team first, especially if you are experiencing medical problems.You may also contact WIRB if:
  • you want general information or have general questions about research or your rights

  • you wish to discuss problems, suggestions, or concerns

  • you do not feel comfortable talking with the research team

  • you want advice on how to communicate with the research team

  • you have communicated with the research team and they have not been able to help you

You may contact us by e-mailing, sending a letter, or via phone call (1-800-562-4789). Every precaution will be taken to maintain your confidentiality.

For more information, visit our FAQ. If you are looking for more resources to learn about research in general, visit AAHRPP's website. AAHRPP is an organization that accredits high-quality human research protection programs, such as WIRB's.

Special considerations

Enrolling a child in research
We suggest that you review the information available on It is an excellent website devoted to research with children and the concerns parents have about allowing their children to be in a research study.

Gene transfer long-term follow-up
"Gene transfer" means putting modified DNA into people. Scientists do not yet fully understand the long-term consequences of gene transfer. Usually these research studies ask for safety follow-up visits that could go on for a long time (years or a lifetime).  


What do I have to do if I join a research study?
Do I have to pay for any of the drugs or procedures in a research study?
What is the difference between medical care and research participation?
What is an IRB and what does it have to do with research?
Will I be paid to participate in a research study?