How to Volunteer in a Clinical Trial

Risks and Rewards of Volunteering for Clinical Trials

Until the 1970s, most nations tested new drugs without any regulatory oversight, and researchers weren't required to tell subjects about the true nature of the tests or of the drugs being tested. Sometimes prisoners or conscientious objectors in the military were used as test subjects in exchange for leniency or assignment to noncombat duties.

Although there is now governmental regulatory oversight, that doesn't always mean the trials are safe. For one thing, pharmaceutical companies are in a rush to get these drugs through all phases of testing, and researchers are lining up to accept such a challenge. There's good money for researchers who want to conduct trials as private enterprise. In 1994, academic medical centers were home to seven out of 10 researchers; 12 years later, more than six out of 10 clinical researchers conducted research trials in the private sector [source: Elliott].

In recent years, there have been cases of research clinics methodically targeting and recruiting homeless alcoholics, illegal immigrants and others on the fringes of society in order to quickly fill positions for research volunteers at cheap rates.

Sometimes the research facilities are shoddy, the food terrible and the living conditions highly uncomfortable (and sometimes the effects of a poor diet and long periods of discomfort are what's being studied).

Officially, researchers are discouraged from making the compensation too appealing, but it can still be good, depending on what trials you want to participate in. Some trials are short, and the money is small but easy. Others take lots of time, and the money can be several thousands of dollars, but hard-earned.

Although some people string together many different clinical trials to earn a living, there is no health care outside the parameters of the study, no overtime pay, and no disability insurance. If you get disabled during a clinical trial, there's a chance you won't receive long-term medical assistance or additional compensation.

For in-house trials, you'll likely be provided with TV, DVDs, music, video games, books or other forms of entertainment, and your travel costs will be reimbursed. Compensation is generally $100 to $200 per day for time spent in a facility, and $25 to $100 for a half-day [source:]. Payment is made by check at the end of the study, or up to a few weeks after it concludes. Once involved, you can quit any time you like, but you may not get paid, or paid in full.

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  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. "Finding a Clinical Trial." (June 19, 2009)
  • American Society of Gene Therapy. "Finding a Clinical Trial." (June 18, 2009)
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