For example, without clinical trials, we would not have seen recent advances in antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV, long-acting contraceptive choices that allow women greater control over their use, or microbicides that may be able to protect women from HIV.
The United States government has rules to protect people who participate in federally-funded biomedical and behavioral research. The rules vary depending on which agency is supporting the research, but they all share a starting point known as the Common Rule, a set of regulations for all federally-funded research involving human participants, whether it is conducted inside or outside the U.S.
But those rules have not always been in place, and there are some shameful chapters in the history of medical research supported by the United States that include violations of the most basic standards of ethical behavior. This history has left some people deeply suspicious of clinical trials and the motives of those who conduct them. Many explain their suspicion with one word: “Tuskegee.”