Lately, I’ve been going to a lot of job fairs. At a few of them, I’ve spotted an unusual booth. It looks like most of the other medical-focused booths, but they’re not looking for employees; they’re looking for test subjects. Or, as they say in the vernacular, human guinea pigs.
The first time or two, I looked at these booths, politely interacted, but didn’t go any further. At one job fair, they sought people with particular medical conditions; they even had a list of conditions. I didn’t have any of the conditions listed…but something made me take the next step of making an appointment. I think it was the idea of getting paid for my time, and free medical treatment. Hey, I’m not proud.
So, late last month, armed with an appointment card, my natural curiosity, and a bit of trepidation, I made my way to Orlando. That’s where Clinical Neuroscience Solutions, Inc. is located. (By the way, a quick web search showed that they apparently have branches in West Palm Beach and Jacksonville, that they’ve been around since 1996, and they seem to have no reviews, good or bad). I took a short elevator ride to the second floor, where I saw a beautiful print of Da Vinci’s “The Measure of Man” (quite appropriate) on my way to their suite.
I found my way into a waiting room that looked just like every other doctor’s waiting room I’d ever been in. After signing in, I filled out a medical history form, just as any new patient of a doctor would. This one seemed a bit more extensive than usual, but not onerously so. And then I waited.
I didn’t wait long. After perhaps ten minutes, I heard my name, and was greeted by Letitia Griffin, a registered nurse. Rather than going with her into an examination room, however, she took me into an office. Here, she went over my medical history, asked me some questions to see if I was a good candidate for any of their studies, and let me ask a few of my own. She seemed to be both genuinely interested in me, and to really enjoy her work, which I counted as positive points for this medical research facility.
The first question concerned money. Yes, they do reimburse for time and travel; how much they pay varies, depending on the study. Most of their studies last 12 weeks, though some might last as long as a year. You visit with a doctor every week, and you spend an hour each visit. If you’re involved in a 12-week study, they do blood work at the fifth and eighth weeks. They take vitals every visit. Naturally, CNS does not charge you for any of this, or any of the medical care or medicines they give you.
The first screening visit, according to Letitia, is a long one. Be prepared to spend three hours or so. They do lots of tests: a full physical, an echocardiogram, blood work, urine, and more. They can do most of the required exams on site, but for any they can’t do, they will send the potential subject elsewhere, and CNS pays for that exam. Only if all of your test results are okay (or presumably as required for the study) will they sign you up. CNS typically gets the lab work back in about a week, and will start subjects on their medications for the study after that if everything checks out.
Letitia gave me the impression that their doctors really care about their patients. She emphasized that the doctors follow up with the subjects after the study, and continue following up until the subjects are stable. They don’t charge for this. That seemed only right to me. After all, if you’re putting your body at someone else’s disposal, it seems only fair that they should give it back in as good a condition as possible.
Because of the nature of clinical studies, you won’t necessarily know if you’re taking active medicine or a placebo, and neither will your doctor. The studies run at CNS are often nation-wide, even world-wide. If you’re curious about the results of your study, you can get them when the full study ends. At that time, you’ll also find out whether you were on the medicine being tested or a placebo.
One positive aspect of these studies is that patients can get medication for a condition that they might not be able to get otherwise, often due to the expense. As CNS is by definition on the cutting edge, the medications used in studies aren’t covered by insurance. But they can give hope and health to people who have otherwise run out of options.
As it turns out, I’m actually too healthy for any of CNS’s current studies. I don’t have back pain, I’m not asthmatic, and I’m too young for their geriatric depression study. They do get diabetes studies from time to time, but since I currently control mine with diet and exercise, I’m guessing I may not be eligible for one of those, either.
And that’s okay. I know we need these kinds of studies for medical science to advance, and I’m all for them – as long as the human subjects are fully informed of the risks; give their informed consent; and are treated responsibly, with respect, by all of the involved medical personnel. I also know, however, that this doesn’t always happen. The best source I know of for what it can be like as a human test subject, for good or ill, is Guinea Pig Zero. Should I decide to dip my toe any more deeply into the waters of becoming a human research subject, you can bet I’ll be reading everything from this source I can get my hands on. An informed patient is the best kind.