Today, May 20th, is International Clinical Trials Day, which marks the anniversary of what is generally believed to be one of the world’s first controlled clinical trials. In 1747, Scottish naval surgeon James Lind had undertaken what at the time constituted a daring experiment to find a treatment for scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency and common among sailors of that era, particularly those on long voyages.
On the 20th of May, 1747, I took twelve patients in the scurvy, on board the Salisbury at sea. Their cases were as similar as I could have them….
The consequence was, that the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived from the use of the oranges and lemons; one of those who had taken them, being at the end of six days fit for duty.
–James Lind, A Treatise of the Scurvy
Although Lind’s experiment had a number of flaws, it nevertheless established citrus fruits (rich in vitamin C) as a sovereign treatment for scurvy and radically changed therapies for the disease, which until then had been treated with a variety of dubious (or even harmful) remedies.