It is easy to get nostalgic for the good old days. The always “on” pace of modern life makes us long for simpler times. Times, we imagine, that were more innocent; times with fresher air, tastier food, and enough leisure to make you slightly eager to get back to work.
On the other hand, Dr. Arun Bhatt’s gripping article in PubMed Central, “Evolution of Clinical Research: A History Before and Beyond James Lind” reminds us that we live in good times. In a relatively short timespan, we’ve come to take well-designed clinical trials, consent, and transparency for granted. We are lucky to be far beyond surgeon Ambroise Paré’s groundbreaking — but, according to Bhatt, accidental — first-ever clinical trial of a novel therapy in 1537:
He describes,' at length my oil lacked and I was constrained to apply in its place a digestive made of yolks of eggs, oil of roses and turpentine. That night I could not sleep at any ease, fearing that by lack of cauterization I would find the wounded upon which I had not used the said oil dead from the poison. I raised myself early to visit them, when beyond my hope I found those to whom I had applied the digestive medicament feeling but little pain, their wounds neither swollen nor inflamed, and having slept through the night. The others to whom I had applied the boiling oil were feverish with much pain and swelling about their wounds. Then I determined never again to burn thus so cruelly the poor wounded by arquebuses’.2
In a profile in National Geographic’s "The Innovators Project," George Church, who launched Harvard Medical School's Personal Genome Project, seems to be immune to the nostalgia that plagues the rest of us. Says Church, “Very often, as I wander through life, I’ll get that old feeling that I’ve come back from the future, and I’m living in the past… [a]nd it’s a really horrible feeling.”
Dr. Paré’s unwitting clinical trial participants would have agreed.