ResearchMatch searches can be useful for clinical trial investigators

Some studies fully enroll in days

While ClinicalTrials.gov offers the public searchable information about clinical trials that might interest them, another research website offers investigators the potential of reaching their trial's enrollment goals without having to run an advertisement.

Called ResearchMatch.org, the website is available only to organizations that have received the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) Clinical Translational and Science Awards (CTSA).

"However, we are in the process of expanding ResearchMatch to allow other academic institutions to participate, and we're very excited about that," says Laurie Lebo, PhD, ResearchMatch program coordinator at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

"In the next six months, we are expanding to academic medical centers," she says. "It might be made available to any research organization in the near future."

ResearchMatch was funded through CTSA as a national recruitment registry that matches volunteers interested in participating in research with investigators who need volunteers.

"It's a kind of eHarmony for research," Lebo says. "Volunteers spend five to 10 minutes entering data about themselves."

CTSA researchers who have an IRB-approved protocol can use ResearchMatch's search engine to find volunteers who meet their study's basic criteria, including age, gender, weight, she explains.

The search engine also divides volunteers geographically, according to how far they say they are willing to travel for a study.

"If someone has a rare disease and there are few studies conducted for that disease, then they might be willing to travel across the country," Lebo says.

The website also asks volunteers for some health data, including whether they have hypertension or other medical conditions. Volunteers also list their medications, and the search engine helps them find the correct spelling.

"If they know which letter their medication starts with and type it, then all the possibilities come up," Lebo says. "The next step is a text box where the volunteer can enter any additional information."

Vanderbilt has helped promote ResearchMatch at corporate health fairs, on Facebook and Twitter ads, and through word-by-mouth.

"I talk about ResearchMatch everywhere," Lebo says. "We have volunteers from every part of the country."

So far, ResearchMatch has about 12,000 volunteers registered, and investigator contacts have been made more than 25,000 times, Lebo says.

"Of those, 5,558 people [as of November, 2010] have said, 'Yes, contact me about participating,'" she adds.

About half of the people who've entered information in ResearchMatch are healthy volunteers, she says.

The website's early enrollment data show that one in five people will say 'yes' to being contacted about a study, and one in five of these people will enroll in a trial, Lebo says.

"I think ResearchMatch will be a more successful tool than ClinicalTrials.gov because with ClinicalTrials.gov, the volunteer has to go in every day and look to see which studies are available, and there is no place for the volunteer to enter information," Lebo says. "In ResearchMatch, they only enter information one time, so it's much easier for both the researcher and the volunteer."

Unlike ClinicalTrials.gov, ResearchMatch's search engine does not permit volunteers to shop around for a clinical trial or contact investigators.

"Volunteers enter their profile information, and then the investigator will contact them about a study," Lebo says.

Researchers send out an email that says the person might be a match for a study, and it asks if the volunteer would like to be contacted by the research team.

"When the volunteer says, 'yes,' then it is identifiable information that is released to the researcher," Lebo says.

"We send the researcher and coordinator a daily digest email to remind them of the volunteers they need to contact about their study," she adds.

The electronic tool has two other important features: First, it permits investigators to search its database to see how many people might meet their studies' criteria.

So if an investigator is writing a grant and needs to see how difficult it might be to recruit volunteers for the study, the database search will provide a strong clue.

"People who register with ResearchMatch are interested in doing research, so this information is much more valuable," Lebo says.

The second feature involves an automatic repeat search that works for at least 30 days.

"One of my favorite tools is that ResearchMatch allows you to set up an auto-contact rule," Lebo says.

The auto-contact rule works this way: The principal investigator (PI) sets up a search, and the electronic tool sends him or her a list of potential matches, without their identifiable information. Then the PI emails these people asking if they would be interested in learning more about the study. People are continuing to join ResearchMatch each day, so every night, the tool will send out a repeat search for the investigator. This continues for 30 days, and the PI can renew it. All of the additional matches are sent to the PI's email inbox to be reviewed each morning.

ResearchMatch has proven to be especially useful to investigators conducting survey research, Lebo notes.

"It's fabulous for them," she says. "They get all of their participants within an hour."