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This May 20, the Research Institute celebrates the important contributions to medicine and public health made by clinical research professionals and participants of clinical trials.


Why May 20?

You've been at sea for months with no idea of when you'll return to port. Your shipmates are fatigued, famished by the strict rationing of food. Scurvy, the deadly scourge of every mariner, is slowly taking hold of your crew. It's May 20, 1747 – a Saturday. You're aboard the HMS Salisbury on patrol in the English Channel, and your ship's surgeon is explaining a novel idea involving the testing of various potential cures.

The first documented clinical trial is said to have started on that day in 1747. Naval surgeon James Lind conducted the trial in an attempt to find a reliable treatment for scurvy.

Scurvy is an illness caused by a lack of vitamin C, with symptoms that include weakness, feeling tired, and sore arms and legs. A prolonged lack of vitamin C was typical for mariners, and often led to further complications, such as decreased red blood cells, gum disease, and bleeding from the skin. Death from scurvy by infection or bleeding was a harsh reality for many sailors due to food rationing and nutritional scarcity.

Lind's clinical trial involved several suggested scurvy cures, including hard cider, vitriol, vinegar, seawater, oranges, lemons, and a mixture of garlic, mustard seed, and other various ingredients. Affected sailors were divided into groups and each given a different treatment regimen over a two week period. Lind documented and later published his findings in A Treatise on Scurvy in 1753. He indicated that oranges and lemons were the most effective remedy for scurvy at sea.

Many believe that the design of Lind's trial served as inspiration for future clinical trials. At the time, Lind's findings and methods were not taken seriously, and it would take the Admiralty nearly fifty years to issue lemon or lime juice to mariners. After this addition to the standard rations, scurvy was no longer a threat to the Royal Navy.


Clinical Trials at St. Joe's

Much has changed in the 271 years since Lind's clinical trial, from participant recruitment to study design, but it helped spur a revolution in medicine and public health.

St. Joe's is a world leader in clinical research, and this extends much further than the lab. On the administrative side, concerns over ethics, privacy, regulatory standards, and staff training are key aspects of our commitment to conducting the highest quality research.

"Clinical trials have come a long way from their origins on the HMS Salisbury," said Adam Weerdenburg, Research Quality Assurance Officer for the Research Institute of St. Joe's. "Our main goal is to conduct the highest quality research in a collaborative environment, with a focus on accountability and participant safety, all while striving towards innovative healthcare."

The Research Institute of St. Joe's Hamilton oversees the work of over 200 researchers and their teams as they carry out clinical and other forms of research that help improve diagnostics, care, and treatment for patients around the globe.

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