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Medical research needs more kids in studies

C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, 2013

Overall, 44% of parents say they'd allow their child to take part in medical research if the child had the disease being studied.

Yet only 5% say their child has participated in a medical study.  

That's according to a recent National Poll on Children's Health conducted by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan.

The poll revealed that parents who are aware of medical research opportunities are more likely to have their children take part if the research is related to their child's disease.  But more than two-thirds polled said they were unaware of these opportunities.

The poll found that, if their child has the illness being studied, almost half of parents are willing for the child to take part in research involving a new medicine or vaccine and more than three-quarters are willing when the research is on mental health or nutrition.

Dr. Matthew M. Davis directs the National Poll and is a professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. 

He said the research community needs to find better ways to tap into parents' willingness. This includes increasing their awareness of medical research opportunities and answering their questions about benefits and risks of participation.

He said the participation of children in studies is essential for making progress in fighting childhood diseases and finding effective medicines for children.

He said nationwide up to half of medical research projects do not enroll enough people to complete the project.

"The public would really like to see further research around childhood cancer, childhood obesity, diabetes, and the safety of medicines and vaccines. And getting kids involved in those studies is fundamentally important to advancing our knowledge and improving our medical care for kids, " Davis said.

Davis said making advances in the treatment of childhood illness is also important for adult health. "Many adult health problems actually begin in childhood," he said. "So the opportunity here is for medical research institutions to focus more energy and resources on research that involves kids to try to get out ahead of medical problems that have a life-time trajectory."

The poll found that parents are less likely to permit their healthy children to take part in medical research. One in five parents said they would consider it if the risks were low.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom