Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Guinea Pigging

Occasionally, I pick up The Metro, a little ripped from the headlines, limited attention span freebie newspaper. One thing I generally look through is their Medical Research Directory, which regularly runs ads looking for folks to participate in clinical studies.

Yesterday's edition was looking for:

  • People over 18 who suffer from social anxiety - but who don't suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or recent drug or alcohol abuse. No money, but they will pay for your transportation or parking. It looks like it's at Mass General Hospital, which is just down the street, so I wouldn't even get that. Plus, while I am on occasion self-conscious, I wouldn't exactly say I avoid social interactions, relationships or jobs because of it.  Scratch that one.
  • Healthy, obese people between 18 and 65 years of age. Once again, no money, but drugs, blood tests, electrocardiograms, nutrition counseling, and clinical visits at Boston Medical Center for free. (I was going to write "all the blood tests, etc. you can eat", but that would be wrong.) In any case, once again I don't qualify. My BMI might be on the cusp of registering as overweight, but obesity? Nah! And if I were obese, I probably wouldn't want to drag all the way over to Boston Medical Center for free to do something about it.
  • Sufferers from Postherpetic Neuralgia. Well, I hadn't heard of it, either. It means pain after shingles, and this one pays $1K. It doesn't quite say who's running the study, or where it is, but at least it pays something. Too bad I don't have Postherpetic Neuralgia, although I did have shingles once, years ago, so I am postherpetic, I suppose. (And talk about painful! It was bad enough having the pain with the shingles, let alone afterwards.)
  • Parents of children with ADHD, who Children's Hospital of Boston will pay $100 to test a computer data gathering system. (My guess is that these folks would be doing the study for the altruistic  heck of it.)
  • Those with arthritis of the knee, which is worth "up to" $250 from an outfit called Medvadis. I have arthritis of the middle toe of the left foot, but that's about it.
  • Folks aged 18-30 with no sleeping problems, who Brigham and Women's will pay up to $2,050 for a mere 9-10 days living in the lab.  $2,050! All I can say is, age discrimination.
  • Healthy 18-49 year olds to studying how probiotic interacts with flu vaccine. Only $135, and Tufts-New England Medical Center is just a hop, skip and a jump away. But, once again, I am aged out. (Not to mention that I might feel a little creepy "working" as a guinea pig in the same hospital my father died in.)
  • Fibromyalgia sufferers who Tufts is also looking for. Short money - $200 - but you get twenty-four free tai chi and stretch training classes out of the deal. Alas - or, lucky me! - I don't have fibromyalgia. (And if you read the naysayers in yesterday's NY Times article on the new drugs being marketed for it, neither does anybody else, as half of the doctors interviewed in the article believe  that fibromyalgia is pretty much a variation on the theme of hypochondria.)
  • Those over 40 who are overweight. Yet again, Tufts is looking for a few, good overweighters - and at least they're not discriminating against us middle-agers. $400 for 4 months of taking "daily supplements".  Wonder what's in them.
  • Those being treated with Zyprexa, whatever that is. The study is being done at McLean Hospital, which is a psychiatric facility, so I can guess. Up to $760 for 11 visits, but getting out to McLean would be a real schlepp without a car. Plus I'm narrowly aged out of this one, which tops out at 55. Not to mention that I've never even heard of Zyprexa.

When glance through the medical research want-ads, I'm usually fantasizing about the ideal research project, in which you receive decent pay to spend a few weeks resting in a pleasant place - maybe not the Bellagio, but a step above a Budgetel - lying around watching TV, reading, and eating food that may be institutional but is somewhat healthy (and free). The only requirement is that, on occasion, someone with the bedside manner of Dr. Welby comes in and takes your pulse.

Apparently not.

Or so I learned from reading "Guinea-Pigging"  a recent New Yorker article by Carl Elliott.

As with everything else in the world, a lot of studies are being outsourced to commercial research outfits - and some are even being outsourced - not surprisingly - to India.  And a lot of the ones that are still Made in the U.S. are made in the sweat shop equivalent of a research center.

Before it was shut down, one commercial research company held drug trials in a former Holiday Inn in Miami, which was described as:

...in a downtrodden neighborhood...paint was peeling from the walls, and there were seven or eight subjects in a room...administrative members worked behind a window, like gas-station attendants, passing documents through a hole in the glass.

What? No Dr. Welby? No Consuelo? (For those who don't remember Dr. Welby, Consuelo was his nurse.)

The New Yorker article also describes how guinea-pigging has become something of a way of life for people.  Professional guinea-piggers are:

...usually people who need money and have a lot of time to pare: the unemployed, college students, contract workers, ex-cons, or young people living on the margins who have decided that testing drugs is better than punching a clock with the wage slaves.

Most of the paid gigs are in Phase 1 clinical trials, and involve taking unreleased/unapproved drugs to determine their side effects.

So that's where they get that "side effects may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, sleeplessness, or the urge to get up in the middle of the night, eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia and drive to Peru" information they recite at the end of every drug commercial.

Pharma side effects aside, the jobs that pay the big bucks are naturally those that have more than a bit of unpleasantness to them. Miserable as some of my jobs have been, not one of them has involved inserting something tubular into any of my orifices - although some have, most assuredly, deprived me of sleep.

It's good to know that guinea pigs have their own web site and jobzine, Guinea Pig Zero, which is the brainchild of activist Bob Helms.

Guinea Pig Zero is an occupational jobzine for people who are used as medical or pharmaceutical research subjects. Its various sections are devoted to bioethics, historical facts, current news and research, evaluations of particular research facilities by volunteers, true stories of guinea pig adventure, reviews, poetry and fiction relating to the disposability of plebeian life. ...this journal keeps in mind that we volunteers can and should maintain an awareness and a will, because if we do not, we will fall victim to the evil uses devised for us by scientists who forget that we and they are of the same species.

I'm not sure how current the info is on GPZ, but if you're thinking of becoming a professional guinea pig, you ought to look here first.

As for myself, I will continue to glance at the guinea-pig ads in The Metro, looking for the perfect opportunity, which would include a comfortable bed in a clean, Holiday-Inn-ish room - not a former Holiday Inn, by the way - with a private bath. It would involve three decent and varied square meals a day (plus fruit, Oreos, rice crackers, and high quality dark chocolate for snacking). There would be tea - nothing fancy, plain old Lipton's will do. It would provide a modestly-sized TV with DVD player and every movie I didn't see in the last two years, starting with Gone Baby, Gone. Plus wi-fi.

At least 12 hours would be allotted to uninterrupted reading, and there would be time off for good behavior to take walks in the lovely and verdant park across the street. It would be spring. And nothing would be inserted in my body, other than the three square meals and snacks.

They wouldn't even have to pay me.

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