Many people know that clinical trials have been around for a very long time, but most might not realize how incredibly old they actually are. On November 21 of this year, we will actually reach the 350-year anniversary of what some believe to be the first ever written description of a paid research subject.

The diary, written by famed writer Samuel Pepys, describes a single subject from a study that was likely performed right around the writing year of 1667. Here are some fun basics and notes on this trial, and how it may have influenced future trials.

The Basics

According to Pepys, a man who he described as “a little frantic” was prepared to undergo a blood transfusion from a sheep as part of a trial. The hypothesis in the trial was that the blood of this calm, docile animal would help calm this man who had so many issues with becoming calm on his own.

Fun Notes

A few interesting tidbits to note from this reported experiment:

  • There was significant disagreement at the time about what effect the treatment would have. According to Pepys, some thought it would help cool the man’s blood and have a good effect on him, while others thought it would simply have no effect at all.
  • An account of the experiment was published just two weeks later in the Philosophical Transactions
  • The subject was later identified as Arthur Coga, a former divinity student from Cambridge. Per at least one account, being publicly identified had a negative effect on Coga in the long term, as people who heard about his stipend from the experiment apparently convinced him to spend it all on alcohol (this account is not confirmed).
  • Reportedly, Coga was chosen because, while he was indeed mentally ill, he was considered educated enough to accurately describe what he was feeling during the treatment.

Placebo Effect?

Some perspectives consider this experiment to be among the first noted examples of the placebo effect. Coga’s report was positive, but many clinicians remained very skeptical – in effect, Coga was much more confident in the effects of the treatment than the researchers themselves were. A subsequent diary entry from Pepys theorizes down similar lines, though in different language.

To learn more about the history of clinical trials, or to sponsor a migraine or conjunctivitis clinical study or volunteer for pink eye and other trials, speak to the research experts at Jean Brown Research today.