What's the cost of being a human lab rat?

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How much can you make by being a test subject in medical drug trials? Sometimes it's enough to replace your income, but are the side effects worth the money? The Feed's Patrick Abboud looks at the trend of people becoming professional guinea pigs.

Every prescription pill you pop, syrup you swallow or fluid you inject has been tested and approved for sale.
 
At the very beginning stages of experimentation drug concoctions are tried on cells and animals grown in labs. But most new drugs are also tested on humans.
 
Every year, millions of volunteers participate in clinical trials in return for quick cash. A few have even turned pro.
 
Welcome to the 'guinea pig' underground.
 
"It's almost like an addiction because the first time I went it was the easiest money I ever got", says Brandon Slais a full-time guinea pig.
 
There's two kinds of clinical drug trial.
 
Patient trials where drugs are tried out on those already suffering from a condition, or healthy volunteer trials where anyone can get involved.
 
The intention is to advance medical science but with big bucks to be made as a human lab rat the industry at large is breeding a growing sub-culture.
 
Uni students, travellers and a whole gamut of people in between - reeling in big dollars by letting drugs loose inside their system for pharmaceutical companies to measure if they work as intended - but at what cost to their wellbeing?
 
Right now there's at least 50,000 medical drug trials on humans taking place around the world. This year at least 130 trials per month rolled out across Australia.
 
Serial guinea piggers can make anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year in Australia.
 
The types of trials range from in-hospital testing where subjects stay for days, sometimes weeks or multiple sessions where they return to the hospital every few days.
 
One of Australia's leading clinical drug and research testing facilities has at least 10,000 regular volunteers on their books today.
 
And there's hundreds of agencies that are paid purely to scout for test subjects.
 
In the US where 'serial guinea pigging' is most popular - it's estimated 10 million healthy test subjects are required each year.
 
Depending on duration, rigor, and risk, medical studies can pay as much as $10,000 each.
 
"I've been doing this as a career for about 5 years", says Marcos Rios
 
Professional guinea pigs in the U.S can earn $50,000 a year or more.
 
'Robert Helms' arguably the most famous professional guinea pigger has participated in more than 60 studies.
 
He published a zine called Guinea Pig Zero, documenting his experiences for many years.
 
The recently retired lab rat - is now an activist against the practice claiming that some pharma companies turn a blind eye to the dangers of too much testing.
 
"Most of the disasters are made to disappear from the map because the company has so much money it can just shut everybody up by just dumping cash into the problem and that works in most cases," he says.
 
Although the work isn't demanding, it can be dangerous.
 
In 2010 670 people in India died during clinical drug trials according to data from the country's Health Ministry.
 
2006 saw one of the most controversial cases of guinea pigging gone wrong to date .
 
Eight male volunteers - one of which was Ryan Wilson  took part in a study at a London hospital.
 
TGN1412 - a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and leukaemia was being tested by pharmaceutical giant Boehringer- Ingelheim.
 
Within minutes of receiving the first dose, 6 of them began to writhe in pain, vomit, and lose consciousness.
 
Nurses rushed them to the hospital's trauma unit, where doctors treated them for multiple organ failure.
 
All the men were subsequently told they would be likely to develop cancers or auto-immune diseases as a result of their exposure to the drug.
 
Ryan Wilson was the worst affected - in a coma for three weeks.
 
He suffered a frostbite-like reaction and lost parts of his fingers and had his toes amputated.
 
Parexel was the clinical research company that ran the trials. He took legal action against Parexel but the company denied liability.
 
After 2 years of court battles and negotiation an undisclosed compensation settlement was paid out.
 
The pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated to prevent test subjects being harmed but with any experiment - there's always risk.
 
Have you ever been part of a medical study? Would you do it again? Have your say by leaving a comment below or following us on Twitter at @TheFeedSBS2, or 'LIKE' us on Facebook.

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