Monday, March 06, 2000

Guinea-pig central

We've all seen those ads in the paper recruiting participants for studies of some homely ailment or other--wrinkles or spider veins or cellulite or bad breath. But now the government is getting in the act with an enormous Web site dedicated to nothing else but recruiting subjects for medical studies. Hypochondriacs, start your engines!

Congress ordered up the site-- help government and university researchers reach the thousands and thousands of human guinea pigs needed to try out cutting-edge procedures, treatments, and drugs. For some, participation could be lifesaving. Others will get nothing but a placebo for their troubles. And some may pay the ultimate price for their contribution to medical science: an Arizona teen died recently as a result of a University of Pennsylvania experiment-gone-wrong.

For those who are seriously ill and in need of a miracle, the site will no doubt be a godsend. For those who have nagging complaints and need some new ideas, it will be an inspiration. And for those who just want to marvel at the broad spectrum of human suffering and discomfort, it will be a compulsive browse. Surely somewhere in here is something that will do me some good.

You can surf through the studies by entering the name of your affliction, perusing the list alphabetically, or viewing "disease headings." Cancer has the most studies, at 1,901, while parasitic diseases merit a mere 31. Choosing "S" at random from the alphabetical list finds, among other things, 310 studies on sexually transmitted diseases, 40 on schizophrenia, 7 on smoking, 12 on stress, 4 on strabismus, and 1 on stiff-person syndrome, which sounds like the way I feel after hauling the kids' computer from one room to the next this weekend.

Perhaps I'm the only one fascinated by this. Perhaps you're all wondering where on earth I might be going here. Or perhaps you've already gone to the site and I'm talking to myself. There's just something about this searchable database of studies that gives me the same thrill as looking through the want ads when I'm perfectly happy with my job--just a look at all the opportunities out there, all the things to get involved in, even if there's not a chance on earth I'd go for it. But when they develop that study on the use of all-expense-paid spa holidays in reducing the stress of adoptive parents of post-institutionalized children, hey, I'm there.

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