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Paid medical trials: An ideal way for students to make money?

12th September 2012
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In a climate where cash-strapped students and young people are going to increasing measures to secure themselves extra money, are medical trials the financial miracle cure?

For many people, drugs trials conjure up images of rats with appendages sprouting from unusual places, or sideshow-esque figures being injected with frankly inadvisable cocktails of chemicals. For my friends and I, going on a medical trial in our summer holiday during university seemed the perfect way to travel around Central America, whilst also being paid for the privilege. What could be better?

The premise of our medical trial was simple. It aimed to find a vaccine which would prevent traveller’s diarrhoea, sending volunteers across the globe to stomach-upset hotspots and seeing how they fared. Once in their destination country, the participants were tasked with keeping a‘diarrhorea diary’, detailing the times (and, yes, the ‘remarkable qualities’) of each episode, and providing samples if any abnormalities arose. It may have been awkward at first, but believe me when I say that it’s amazing how quickly discussing the intricacies of your bowel behaviour can become acceptable, or even encouraged, social behaviour.

Unfortunately, it seems that there’s no such thing as a free holiday, and we soon discovered, whilst sampling the delights of Mexican cuisine with gay abandon, that our magical vaccine was not the panacea to all stomach-related ills. Incidentally, I learnt very quickly how to say ‘where are the nearest toilets, please?’ and, ‘I am very, very unwell’ in beautiful, albeit panicked, Spanish. That said, the only lasting ill-effect of the medical trial that my companions and I can identify are a few toe-curling memories of some very near-misses in remote Mexican villages where toilets were scarce. (Oh, and a predilection for openly discussing our toilet habits with any likeminded individual). A veritable success story, we emerged physically unscathed from our Mexican ‘Paid to Poo’ experience, and a few hundred pounds richer to boot.

However, our experience does not necessarily represent the whole truth of the situation. For my friends and I, taking part in a medical trial was a much-needed boost to our depleted finances and a unique opportunity to travel in a way which would otherwise have been inaccessible to us as undergraduates. Not all trials end so happily. The unfortunate incident at Northwick Park Hospital in 2006 (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9226-uk-drug-trial-disaster--the-official-report.html) illustrates the incumbent risks often involved in these experiments, and highlights the need to exercise common sense when considering whether or not a medical trial is for you. Certainly, the very nature of such exploratory studies means that they are inherently dangerous, seeking to explore the unknown effects of certain chemicals or processes on the human body and mind.

If you are to embark upon such an adventure, be careful to choose one which has already been tested on humans and is supported by a reputable health institute (ours, for example, was run with the support of the NHS). Remember that your mental and physical wellbeing are of the utmost importance, and that no amount of money would be able to buy back, once lost, your previously-good health.

Also, be aware that there is no financial compensation for the complete loss of your dignity as you hand over a cool bag of your own faecal matter to a smiling Mexican courier, who is possibly unaware of its contents. But hey - dignity’s overrated, anyway. If nothing else, you’ve always got a great conversation-starter for dinner parties…  

 




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