Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Perils of the professional lab rat

Officially they are "volunteers", paid only for the inconvenience of giving up their time for science, but with rewards of up to $300 per day in the US or around £150 per day in the UK, many sign up for one trial after another, and consider themselves fully employed. As long as they stay healthy enough to be accepted for the next trial, they can make a decent living out of taking pills, allowing blood to be drawn and spending night after night in testing facilities.

They can, and sometimes do, go awry (see "A dangerous occupation" lower down in the article.

SHOOT: I did this for a spell. It's not something I'd want my kids to be doing.
Clinical trials can be an easy pill to swallow when there's money involved (Image: Petri Artturi Asikainen / Getty)

Oliver* is a professional guinea pig or "healthy volunteer". When we speak, he's in Austin, Texas, taking two different HIV drugs in combination over 20 days. At the end he'll receive $5000. Before this, it was an injection of a cancer drug in San Antonio. "My lymph nodes got swollen and tender but it went away a week later," he says, but it was well worth it for $2800. In January, he pocketed $3000 for a 10-day stint testing an antibiotic (which made him vomit) and in October 2008 he was in Dallas for 32 days to test a liquid anti-cholesterol drug. For that he raked in $9100. In total last year, he earned $34,000 as a therapeutic guinea pig.

The 32-year-old former hotel manager is just one of tens of thousands of people around the world who make a living out of participating in clinical trials (see "Guinea pigs 'R us").
While the money can be good, this is potentially dangerous work.
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