Online course aims to bolster clinical research skills

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When Brazilian physician Felipe Fregni, M.P.H. ’07, came to Harvard to study clinical research (medical studies involving human volunteers) the experience was transformative. Gaining the skills to critically analyze the latest research on treatments and preventive measures made him better able to care for his patients, he said, and also launched him into a research career conducting his own clinical trials.

Recognizing that this kind of training was unavailable to many health professionals, particularly in the developing world, Fregni decided to launch the online course Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (PPCR) nine years ago. It is currently offered by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and to date, more than 2,000 students from 30 countries have enrolled.

Fregni, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, is the director of a large clinical research laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston focused on investigating how the brain changes with lesions to the nervous system and how to enhance learning when the nervous system is injured. In addition to leading PPCR, Fregni collaborates with researchers in Brazil and other countries.

“The only way you can improve how medicine is practiced is by spreading knowledge,” he said. ????I believe that better training of clinical researchers worldwide will help to develop innovations in medicine and public health.”

By the end of the course, students will be able to design and conduct their own clinical trials, and understand the basics of article publication, Fregni said.