Could New Research Trick Mean More Real Meds for Patients?

Did you know that if you’re being treated for a serious illness, but are part of a randomized test of a new drug, you might only have a 50-50 chance of receiving real medication? This is because in many medical research studies, only half of the study volunteers are given the actual treatment. The other half may be given fake pills, known as placebos, so that scientists can compare the effects of real medication versus the faux ones. This kind of study design often discourages volunteers who do not wish to be guinea pigs who receive no treatment. However, researchers at the University of Michigan have come up with a new approach that aims to change this.

A New Approach: Response-Adaptive Randomization

This new research method is called response-adaptive randomization (RAR). It differs from the conventional method of medical research by adjusting the odds of receiving real medication as the study proceeds. As a result, if the initial test results show that a treatment is effective, each new enrollee will have a higher chance of being treated with the actual pharmaceutical. This makes the study process less random and more favorable for the study participants.

Studies have shown that implementing RAR significantly improves volunteer enlistment in medical research studies. William Meurer, a researcher involved in the study, explains that the response-adaptive randomization design may increase recruitment for acute stroke studies and could be especially important in emergency situations. In such cases, patients or their loved ones often have just minutes to consider their options.

The Benefits of Using RAR

The RAR approach offers several advantages over the traditional medical research method:

  • It increases the likelihood of participants receiving effective treatment, which could lead to better treatment outcomes overall.
  • It provides researchers with more accurate data on the treatment’s effectiveness, as more participants are likely to receive the actual treatment rather than a placebo.
  • It encourages more people to participate in medical research studies, as there’s a higher chance of receiving real medication.
  • It ensures that patients in urgent or emergency situations receive timely and effective treatment, which could significantly improve their chances of recovery.

The Ethical Perspective

Some may argue that there’s an ethical aspect to consider when using RAR in medical research studies. On one hand, it seems unethical to give half of the study participants a placebo treatment when they could potentially be receiving a medicine that could improve their health. On the other hand, researchers need to understand the full spectrum of a drug’s effects and how it compares to a placebo treatment in order to make informed decisions about if the drug is truly effective.

However, RAR may provide a solution to this ethical dilemma, as it increases the likelihood of participants receiving the actual treatment as the study proceeds. Researcher William Barsan explains that the RAR approach is appealing in treating patients with life-threatening neurological emergencies such as stroke and head trauma. With a higher probability of receiving the more effective therapy in an RAR study, medical research can potentially become a more ethical and patient-centered process.


In conclusion, the response-adaptive randomization (RAR) method has the potential to transform the landscape of medical research studies. By increasing the likelihood of participants receiving the actual treatment rather than a placebo, it can improve volunteer enlistment, provide better treatment outcomes, and support a more ethical approach to medical research. As the medical community continues to learn more about the benefits of RAR, it is likely that more clinical trials and research studies will begin to incorporate it, leading to a brighter future for both medical professionals and potential patients.