BETHESDA – Ever wondered what it takes to be normal? The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda has figured it out. At least, it’s figured out what it takes to be “a” normal.
Generally, if you have no significant medical problems, no history of severe psychological problems, no active drug history and no current medications, then you can be a normal – or at least participate in the Clinical Research Volunteer Program as a normal.
Healthy volunteers, also called normals, make up the control groups in studies at NIH. NIH is one of the world’s leading medical research facilities and it relies on volunteers.
Sound easy? There are about 12,000 people from Maryland, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia in a database ready to volunteer, and yet Joan P. Mallin, the director of the program, said, “We always need healthy volunteers.”
With 247 studies looking for volunteers and 4,000 normal people per year participating in the program, the challenge for NIH is finding the right people, who have the right age, sex, race and other, more particular, qualities for the studies.
For example, if you want to help test the emotional attachment to photographs, you can’t have metal implants. Plus you have to be married for at least two years, non-smoking and with good vision. And you have a have a collection of photos of your spouse and family members.
Need your wisdom teeth out? Maybe this study, evaluating the genetic factors in perception and tolerance of pain, is more your pace. Of course you also must be between the ages of 18 and 80 and will be subjected to a personality test, blood sample and tissue biopsy. Healthy volunteers will have to describe hot and cold stimuli applied to an arm.
So why are so many people lining up to be normals? To do their part for science? You never know how many people really care about bone mineral density, oral ulcers, tear production, airway inflammation and motor control of the body.
“Volunteerism is kind of in,” said Mallin. “It’s kind of trendy to go to a party and say, ‘Hey! You know what I’m doing? I’m involved in a study.’. . . We’re kind of capitalizing on that.”
The time-honored motive?
Remember that photograph attachment study? $220. Even the wisdom tooth study could score a healthy volunteer $50, or, for a volunteer with a few too many wisdom teeth, free dental work.
But Mallin said, “If you’re doing it for the compensation . . . it’s certainly not going to substitute for an income.” More than 90 percent of the volunteers make under $100, she said.
Dinora Dominguez’s three children have volunteered for studies at NIH. The Gaithersburg nurse who works at NIH has tried to participate, but has not been qualified for the studies she pursued.
Although Dominguez’s children may use the money to buy new CDs, she said they do it because “they think it’s fun.”
“There are a lot of reasons why people participate, and money is not the main reason,” said Dominguez. Her children, ages 10, 11 and 12, enjoyed participating in the program so much, she said, they wanted to get the Girl Scouts to participate, too.
If you’re interested in becoming a normal volunteer, contact the Clinical Research Volunteer Program at (301) 496-4763 or consult its website, with a complete listing of open studies, at http://www.cc.nih.gov.