The N Factor

The mere mention of a possible stop-gap option to the grave medical realities of those that suffer, let alone a lifeline to a solution, is enough to get most patients and their families/friends talking. Clinical trials however are relatively few and far between for specific diseases and those that are available are currently akin to drawing the lottery where circumstances such as referral, timing, scale, proximity and onerous inclusion criteria set a very high bar to entry.

The vast majority of patients don’t have any options.

I’ll relay a representative case in point - a friend of mine was diagnosed recently with Stage 4 Melanoma, an advanced skin Cancer which is all but fatal in relatively short order. His doctors gave him the ticking clock and little hope. However, given his wish to live and determination to see his young son grow up he studied, turned over every rock and reached out. He landed a very rare spot as a tag along to a new immunotherapy trial. He was lucky, most are not, given he didn’t meet the strict criteria for official entry. The trial treatment saved his life.

T-Cells in Action
Hope is a cruel bedfellow with its constant draw of energy and resources from the very reservoir it seeks to fill. Yet without that flicker of a flame gasping for oxygen the very medical system built upon empirical data derived from clinical trials designed to advance knowledge wouldn’t exist.

The system needs patients and patients need the system - both rely on the other and as such require inclusive practices to further the agenda of progress towards real solutions.

Emily Whitehead
N is a strong and decisive letter in our everyday language but in investigative medicine it’s a defining research statement which confers status and validity where quantitative analysis imbues significance and wields judgement on meaningfulness. For those not on the in, the N is translational science parlance for the number of patients treated and their data sets. The lower the N the more likely there will be variability in the eventual safety and benefit outcomes when applied to the patient population at large. While the larger the N the more significant the potential correlation in delivering a safe option and potentially treating the targeted disease indication. 

As fundamental as the N is to applying the scientific method to proving the safety and potential for wide scale application, it cannot be suggested to be devoid of meaning at any level, especially considering the human impact and nascent development of promising new therapeutic modalities for treating previously unmet medical needs.

The mere fact that we will all suffer in one form or another from the debilitating conditions of age is enough to warrant more attention to the secondary benefits in N data given the lack of achieved endpoints of trialed drug interventions to-date. Combine the natural degenerative conditions of the aged with a population rife with chronic and acute medical issues that continue to overburden the system, leaving a significant population of those in need without a solution, and you have the argument for considered change.

Breakthroughs in medical science indeed offer a real opportunity to effect change and the more that can be done to allow for inclusion and support for that transformative process to occur the more representative the N will be that correlates to real tangible wellbeing data logged for the betterment of the science as well as the patient. 


Ref: Related Cancer Blog on Emily Whitehead

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