Trial Forge | Heidi Gardner

about the storyteller

Heidi Gardner is a PhD student exploring Applied Health Sciences research. After completing her undergrad work in Pharmacology, Heidi discovered the challenges of recruitment for clinical trials that researchers face every day.

She now works to improve this process - check out her story below and follow her on Instagram @heidirgardner.


Can you tell us a bit about the research you are doing?

My research focuses on improving the efficiency of clinical trials. At the moment the evidence-base for how to design, conduct and report clinical trials is very thin, which is weird considering that trials are the method we use to generate a reliable evidence-base for healthcare interventions.

Specifically, I'm looking at the process of recruiting participants into clinical trials. Currently the only strategy that we have solid evidence for, and that can be widely applied across trials, is telephone reminders - i.e. if you've sent a potential participant a letter, giving them a call to remind them about that letter helps...not rocket science.

We need more strategies with an evidence-base to allow trialists to do recruitment more effectively. Almost half of clinical trials are estimated to recruit poorly; if trials don't recruit to target, their results may be false. There's more info in this article I wrote along with my PhD supervisors.


How or why did you get interested in your field?

Before my PhD I completed an undergraduate degree in Pharmacology. As part of that I did a year on industrial placement where I worked as a recruiter for a life sciences recruitment agency. I hired people involved with clinical trials in industry - research nurses, medics, trials assistant etc.

During that job I hired staff who would be turned away from their shifts because there were no participants for them to conduct data collection on as part of the trial. I figured there must be a way to get more participants in, but after a few weeks of Googling I didn't find anything.

Eventually I found my now PhD supervisor, who was just as frustrated as I was - it was good timing for me, and I started the PhD a month after my undergraduate degree finished. 


What are the short-term and long-term benefits to your research?

If we can make recruitment to trials easier, the recruitment period of trials all of the world would shorten, budgets would not be quite so stretched, and results of trials would become more reliable.

Short-term, I suspect that means a dip in caffeine sales and a decrease in grey hairs within the trial community. Long-term it would free up resources for other research, and ensure we don't need to duplicate/replicate results so often because they'd be more reliable in the first place.


If someone wants to learn more, where would you direct them?

I write a blog (heidirgardner.wordpress.com) where I talk about my research and PhD life more generally. My work is part of a wider initiative called Trial Forge, which aims to improve trial efficiency throughout the trial timeline (i.e. not just participant recruitment).