Clinical Trials Day is celebrated around the world in May to recognize the day that James Lind started the first randomized clinical trial on board a ship on May 20, 1747.
However, what is often forgotten is the world’s first documented clinical trial was actually conducted more than two thousand years ago by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The account of the trial itself can be found in The Bible, in The Book of Daniel.
The King wanted to maintain the physical prowess of his warriors, so issued a decree that all of his people were only allowed to eat meat and drink wine. But a group of young men objected to his suggested dietary regime and asked permission to follow a diet of just vegetables and water for a period of ten days. Nebuchadnezzar agreed to their request.
At the end of the ten days, it was apparent that the dissenters were in better health than those who had followed the King’s orders. This medical research paved the way for some of the methods that are still used in the very latest clinical trials we see today, including the importance of a control group, examining Research Subjects following a variety of dosages and medications, and ensuring the research is carried out over a finite length of time.
While the Babylonian ruler was not able to decidedly resolve the question of which of the diets is preferable, we cannot fault him for this – the question has not been fully answered up to this day. Yet the king certainly deserves credit for introducing two major components of a clinical trial: (i) separate groups following different prescriptions and (ii) finite length of the trial, upon which the results are evaluated.