This Sunday, take a moment to honor two guys who sat in a boat and bravely ate some oranges a little more than 270 years ago.

These two guys in the boat were participants in the first ever controlled clinical study. For centuries, scurvy, a condition that causes bleeding gums, limb pain and death, was accepted as an inevitable scourge of long sea voyages. But in 1747, a Scottish naval surgeon named James Lind had the world-changing idea to isolate 12 scurvy-inflicted sailors, split them into six groups of two, and offer each pair a different supplement to the ship’s usual diet of gruel, mutton and boiled biscuits. One pair of sailors—probably fancying themselves the luckiest of the bunch—received a daily quart of cider. The others got spoonfuls of vinegar, drops of an elixir, sea water, a mix of nutmeg and barley water, or a daily ration of two oranges and a lemon. After just six days, “the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived” among the sailors who received the citrus, according to Dr. Lind’s notes.

This Sunday, May 20, marks 271 years since the day Dr. Lind launched his study (it’s unclear if we can say our sailors “enrolled” in the study—the concept of voluntary informed consent wasn’t formalized until much, much later). We now celebrate International Clinical Trials Day every year on this anniversary to honor the professionals and participants that make clinical trials possible.

As someone who has taken medicine, undergone surgery and vaccinated my child, I’m thankful for Dr. Lind, his participants, and the millions of people since who have helped advance medical knowledge through participation in clinical research. And as an employee of Syneos Health, I’m proud to be a part of a long intellectual tradition that touches virtually every person on the planet.


About the Author:

Julian is the clinical solutions lead for the Digital and Social Strategy team at Syneos Health™. He helps serve as a bridge between the clinical and commercial services in the company’s biopharmaceutical acceleration model.