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Cancer Clinical Trials at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center

The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.

Credit: National Cancer Institute

The Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, is America’s largest hospital devoted entirely to research with people. Here, doctors and researchers seek new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease. Unlike most hospitals, you must have an illness that is being studied and be eligible for a clinical trial that is accepting patients to be seen at the Clinical Center. Most of the trials that take place here are phase 1 and 2. Often, the treatments under study are being used for the first time in people. The people who take part in clinical trials at the Clinical Center are active partners in medical research and discovery.

The Clinical Center is arranged so that patient care units are close to the labs where related research is taking place. This approach fosters communication and teamwork among doctors and researchers.

NIH is the largest funder of research in biology and medicine in the country. It is part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.  

Cancer Clinical Trials at the NIH Clinical Center

Cancer research at the NIH Clinical Center takes place within the Center for Cancer Research (CCR) and the Developmental Therapeutics Clinic. 

Center for Cancer Research (CCR)

The Center for Cancer Research is NCI’s in-house cancer center. Its mission is to improve the lives of people with cancer by solving important, challenging, and neglected problems in cancer research and patient care. CCR’s teams are made up of compassionate doctors, nurses, and care specialists who conduct clinical trials that are testing new treatments.

There are several ways to find CCR clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can:

  • Call the Patient Recruitment and Liaison Office at 1-800-411-1222.
  • Call the CCR referral coordinator at 1-888-NCI-1937 (1-888-624-1937).
  • Visit Search for CCR Trials at NIH.
  • Use NCI’s clinical trials advanced search form. Under “Location,” click the button next to “At NIH.” This will show only clinical trials that are going on at the NIH Clinical Center.

If you search for trials yourself, first review the trial information and eligibility criteria for each trial and discuss with your doctor. If you and your doctor find a trial you may be eligible for, your doctor should call the phone number listed under “Locations and Contacts” for instructions on which medical records to send and where to send them. Medical records need to be in English or a certified English translation.

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Developmental Therapeutics Clinic

The Developmental Therapeutics Clinic is an NCI clinic that supports the work of the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis (DCTD). It conducts clinical trials of novel cancer treatment agents for patients with advanced cancer who may have no other standard treatment options. Trials in the clinic use the scientific resources of the DCTD to provide better understanding of techniques of treatment, selection of patients, and combinations of agents.

To see current clinical trials that are offered through the Developmental Therapeutics Clinic, visit the list of open DTC trials. For contact information for the Clinical Research Referral Coordinators and a copy of the Patient Self-Referral Form, see their Referrals–Contacts for Patients page.

How to Take Part in a Clinical Trial at the NIH Clinical Center

In order to take part in a clinical trial at the Clinical Center, you must:

  • Have your diagnosis confirmed by your own doctor.
  • Have an illness that is being studied in a clinical trial that is accepting patients.
  • Meet the requirements for a clinical trial that is accepting patients.
  • Provide all necessary medical records in English.

The research team for the trial you are interested in will review your records. Depending on the results of this review, they may invite you to the Clinical Center for a screening visit. If you are not eligible for a screening visit, the research team will let you know. Depending on the results from the screening visit, you may be invited to enroll in a clinical trial. 

Once Enrolled in a Clinical Trial, Care at the Clinical Center Is Free

Once you are enrolled in a clinical trial at the Clinical Center, medical care is free. If you do not live locally, you will also receive help paying for travel, as well as food and lodging expenses if you are being treated as an outpatient. However, you are responsible for any travel, lodging, and food costs related to your initial screening visit.

Even though most costs are covered, it is important for you to maintain health insurance while receiving treatment at the Clinical Center because you many need coverage for medical care that is required outside of the trial or that is provided away from the Clinical Center.

International Participants

In some cases, people from other countries can enroll in clinical trials at the Clinical Center if they meet the trial’s eligibility requirements and the trial accepts international participants. However, due to limited resources and funding, United States citizens and lawful permanent residents have priority. 

If traveling from another country to take part in a research study at the Clinical Center, you must pay for your own travel to the states and have a place to stay while you are here.  You should also review the Clinical Center’s Visa and Immigration Information to become familiar with all requirements.

Working with Your Doctor

Once you are enrolled in a trial, the principal investigator will send regular updates and test results to your doctor back home.

NCI encourages health care providers to continue open communication with their patients throughout the clinical trial. Patients are encouraged to share their clinical trial experience with their health care providers. Referring health care providers are welcome to call the NCI research team conducting the trial at any time to discuss patient treatment plans and care.

Once you have finished the clinical trial, you will return to your local doctor to continue your medical care. You will not receive long-term care at the Clinical Center.