Clinical trials

Clinical trials in some shape or form have been around for a while, 270 years in fact. And the first came in the shape of oranges and lemons.

On 20th May 1747, a Scottish naval doctor named James Lind started comparing treatments for scurvy on board HMS Salisbury. His work is now recognised to be the first ever known example of a clinical trial.

Every year International Clinical Trials Day is celebrated around the world to recognise the important role that clinical trials continue to play in the healthcare we see today.

So what was involved in the first ever clinical trial?

James Lind compared six treatments on 12 sailors with scurvy. He divided the sailors into six pairs:

  • Two patients were given cider
  • Two were given vinegar
  • Two were given elixir vitriol (a mix of sulphuric acid, alcohol, and aromatic spices)
  • Two were given sea water
  • Two were given a mix of spices, garlic, and mustard seeds
  • Two were given oranges and lemons

Within six days, one of the patients given oranges and lemons became fit for duty and the other became well enough to act as a nurse for the remaining patients.

Although understanding the health benefits of oranges and lemons in scurvy had to wait until the discovery of vitamins, James Lind had established the foundations of evidence-based medicine, now a cornerstone of our health services.