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Double Blind

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Interactive teaching
Topic: Drugs

Eight young volunteers began their hospital visit in high spirits. They weren't ill. They were being paid good money to be there. All they had to do was relax, play a few games of pool, watch TV, get injected with a new drug, and give a few blood samples. They'd signed forms to say they knew there were risks. TGN1412 was being tested for the first time, and no-one could guarantee its safety. Most had been in clinical trials before. Nothing much ever happened. But this time things went horribly wrong. Six of the eight were left fighting for their lives. In this discussion activity, students consider whether new treatments should be ever tested on human volunteers.

Published: 29th March 2006
Reviews & Comments: 24

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Learning objectives

Students will:
-understand what a placebo is and why they are used in clinical trials.
-consider the ethics of trying treatments out on humans.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

Drug development and the ethics of testing them on volunteers.

11 – 14(KS3)
Using Chemistry QCA 9H
• Describe the key stages of development of a new product.

GCSE specifications
AQA Core Science
Unit B1a Human Biology: 11.3 How do we use/abuse medical and recreational
• Drugs can be beneficial but may harm the body.
• Scientists are developing new drugs and these need to be thoroughly tested.
• When new medical drugs are devised, they have to be extensively tested and trialled before being used. Drugs are tested in the laboratory to find if they are toxic. They are then trialled on human volunteers to discover any side effects.
Gateway Core Science
Module B1 Understanding Ourselves: Item B1c Keeping Healthy
• Describe the use of blind and double blind trials in testing new drugs against placebos.
Twenty First Century Core Science
Module B2 Keeping Healthy: B2.3 How are new drugs developed and tested?
• Recall that new drugs are first tested for safety and effectiveness using human cells grown in the laboratory and animals.
• Recall that human trials may then be carried out on healthy volunteers to test for safety.
• Describe and explain the use of 'blind' or 'double-blind' human trials in the testing of a new medical treatment.

Running the activity

Page 1 sets the context. Clinical trials make sure new treatments are safe before they go on sale. If their side effects are too serious, they never get used. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) keeps a strict eye on clinical trials to make sure everything is done as safely as possible. But no-one predicted what would happen when TGN1412 was tested. Students are asked to give an initial opinion on whether new treatments should be trialled on humans.
Page 2 shows what "double blind" trials involve and asks students to deduce why one of the trial volunteers was unharmed.
Page 3 shows why the drug was undergoing clinical trials. Students are asked to complete evidence cards for and against the tests. They could be asked to get together in groups of 3 to compare their reasons. Groups could decide if, on balance, they are in favour of, or against, testing. Then the group votes could be registered for the whole class to reach a consensus.

News links

A summary of the story from the BBC, with a useful overview of the drug testing process.
Cancer Research UK
Detailed information about what is involved in carrying out clinical trials.
The Pharmaceutical Journal
A detailed report in the impact of the TGN1412 trial.
BioEthics Education Project.
An introduction to the 'experimenter effect'.
The ethical dilemmas nurses face when taking part in drug trials.
A clinical trial simulation.
A summary of what's involved in the development of a modern medicine.
A flowchart of the drug development process.
Detailed information about the organisation of clinical trials and the ethical issues involved.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Double Blind

May 19th, 2010

4 Star

A good staring point, which I adapted to use with my class. I pretended that they were all volunteers in a clinical trial and got them to ask questions that they would want answering. We then discussed their opinions on using human volunteers. The upd8 worksheets were excellent as a starting point and plenary.

Reviewer: Laura Errington

Double blind

Mar 13th, 2010

4 Star

Good discussion topic, spent about 30 mins working through the option and then led on to some argumentative writing about what they had discussed. Students seemed to enjoy and it and it is good practice for when they come to their case study at GCSE

Reviewer: Kate White

biology aqa gcse science

Mar 3rd, 2010

5 Star

used with year 10. takes the emphasis off the teacher. Pupils learned a lot about the process of introducing new drugs without 'working'. Opened up lots of interesting discussion.

Reviewer: lucy baddeley


Oct 13th, 2009

4 Star

this worked really well and pupils enjoyed the activities, I used BBC news clips to show pupils different opinions on drug testing

Reviewer: Alex Delporte

Bionic eye

Aug 7th, 2009

4 Star

I use this resource as part of a research assignment into how human body parts can be replaced.

Reviewer: Nick Wiffen

new drugs

Jun 7th, 2009

4 Star

Used with a mid-lower ability of disruptive Yr9 students. More interesting than a book based activity that even got most of the normally troublesome students involved. Some ideas a bit complex but would be excellent with a more motivated group.

Reviewer: susan humphreys


Mar 22nd, 2009

5 Star

The UPD8 activities offer an exciting way of blending science into different contexts. I recently had problems with colleagues concentrating more on the context of cooking than the science involved. How can this problem be addressed?

Reviewer: Nqobile Nkala

Good video link

Mar 18th, 2009

4 Star

I also showed a BBC clip of the 'guinea pigs' who suffered badly as he explains what went wrong and the consequences - made it more real than cartoon images on worksheets

Reviewer: Neil Burrows

double blind

Feb 4th, 2009

5 Star

Students really enjoyed this. It brought the topic alive and stimulated a focused discussion.

Reviewer: Anne-Marie Jones

Using with adult learners

Nov 2nd, 2008

4 Star

My adult learners remembered this story being in the news. The task provided an excellent sitimulus for discusion.

Reviewer: Robert Duddington


Nov 2nd, 2008

5 Star

Have used this numerous times with a range of pupils from A* to G/U. They have all understood the topic well.
Fab resource!


double blind

Jun 1st, 2008

4 Star

supplemented with news articles from the BBC this sparked a very livlely and surprising dicussion with higher tier 21st century students. Pupils generally split into two camps for testing and against animal testing (but not human) due to the fact that humans are complient and therfore are aware of risk. Used when teaching B2 making risk and ethics at the centre of the students discussions

Reviewer: michaela Fagelman

Clinical Trials

May 13th, 2008

4 Star

Helped pupils to understand the role of a placebo, and the different phases in clinical trials. With a high ability group prompted discussion on ethics of testing on humans

Reviewer: Rona Chellew

Double Blind review

Jan 9th, 2008

1 Star

this was so borin i almost died!!!! :)

Reviewer: Pawel Jarecki

Double blind

Oct 30th, 2007

5 Star

This activity generated good interest from a generally disaffected year 11 class!

Reviewer: Mohamed Babu Zainulabdeen

Double Blind

Jun 13th, 2007

4 Star

Used this with a top set year 10 class. unfortunately it was the last lesson before work experience, so was a little difficult to get them settled. It generated loads of discussion and with hindsight, giving them a couple of articles to read didn't help with the activity. When doing this again, I think that I'll book a computer suite and let them do some research about alternatives to clinical trials on humans as they seemed a bit lost after saying that drugs shouldn't be tested but then didn't know what alternatives there were.

Reviewer: Joanne Golding

double blind

Jun 4th, 2007

5 Star

My year 10 pupils loved this activity particularly as it linked real news stories. Further research was then undertakn on drug testing disasters

Reviewer: Kelly Susan

very good!!!

Mar 10th, 2007

5 Star

i thought this was a fantastic resource to use as a main activity. it really allowed my year 10 students to discuss a lot of issues. i had the video which was talking about the same case that this worksheet is on so it was a good source for continuing what we started. however even if you don't have this video it will still work well.

Reviewer: Nancy Asare

Double blind

Jan 25th, 2007

5 Star

Used this activity with set 4 Y10's - very good, engendered lots of discussion and interest and was observed by HMI! Thanks very much!

Reviewer: Katherine Swinson


Nov 16th, 2006

5 Star

gr8 --I used it and it works well--with all year 10--I used it and kids liked it.

Reviewer: sunil patnaik

all topics in general

Nov 9th, 2006

5 Star

I find your site an absolute gem from the wide range of topics to their content and format.Keep up the GOOD WORK and THANK YOU

Reviewer: christine young

Double Blind

Jun 21st, 2006

4 Star

A good activity. It generated plenty of discussion. We used it with year 9s as part of a preKS4 course. Linking it to "How science works" for KS4. It was interesting to see how they were influenced by others in the group. It gave me a good opportunity to introduce the idea of evidence and changing opinions.

Reviewer: David Cole

Debate Sparker

Jun 17th, 2006

4 Star

Used this activity with my Year 9 following our own double blind trial on the effects of caffeine on heart rate, reaction time & memory. The activity really sparked some debate on whether humans should be used as guinea pigs in drug trials. It is bang up-to-date and the pupils really enjoyed it.


Double Blind review

Apr 10th, 2006

3 Star

(note from editor: must be a local problem, the pdf seems to download fine).

I have been hoping for an upd8 science activity on this topic. Unfortunately page 1 didn't download ("too many arguments"). The rest looks good.
Is there another way that I can get to view page 1?
Maureen Trotter

Reviewer: Maureen Trotter


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