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PUTTING THEIR BODIES ON THE LINE FOR MONEY, FOR MEDICINE

Tim Curry is pedaling a stationary bike as fast as he can. His cheeks are flushed, his breathing is heavy, and his pedaling is less steady than when he began exercising.

"Remember the bears," shouts Dan Warkander from over Curry's right shoulder, pushing the cyclist to his max by having him imagine that a pack of bears are in hot pursuit.

Take away the electrodes strapped to Curry's chest and the weather balloons he's breathing into and this could be a physical trainer coaxing his client through a workout.

But Warkander is a scientist at the University at Buffalo's Center for Research and Education in Special Environments -- and Curry is his subject.

Wanna sell yourself to science?

It wants you.

Gurgle mouthwash for a couple weeks and you'll earn $100 and a free teeth cleaning.

Allow yourself to undergo a vigorous exercise regimen for a month and you'll make a couple hundred more.

And if you're healthy, have a flexible schedule and are willing to urinate on command while test-driving drugs, four figures could be in your future.

Nobody's advocating bodies for hire, mind you.

Most researchers agree that the best volunteers are the curious and benevolent, not the merely greedy. Curry is a prime example of the former.

A medical/doctoral student, he is doing his own research at the center. The $8 hourly rate he makes as a subject there -- $4 per hour more if he finishes the study -- helps, but the experience is better.

"I've had people say, 'I'll do anything for money.' They make lousy subjects," sighs Dean Marky, the center's operations supervisor. "If they don't care about doing it, they might quit early.

"Or if they're in it just for mercenary reasons, they won't tell you when they're having trouble, because they don't want to be taken out of the project."

"People hear about the 'guinea pig' side of this and look down upon it," says Charles Ballow, director of anti-infectives research in Millard Fillmore Hospital's clinical pharmacokinetics lab.

"Well, that's fine -- until they need a wonder drug, or their parent or their child needs a wonder drug."

Pharmacokinetics is the study of how the body distributes, absorbs, metabolizes and excretes drugs.

To study that -- and to get drugs approved for public use -- you need volunteers to test them on.

No one is breaking down Ballow's door.

"We rarely have a surplus of people," he says, "but somehow we manage to get it done."

And just who is willing to offer himself up to science?

"I can tell you that there aren't too many people who make a ton of money," he says. "We don't have vagrants. We don't have street people. Most, but not all of them, have jobs."

If the hospital's research committee approves the project, which it does following stringent federal guidelines, recruiters solicit subjects. Often they'll advertise in the Personals section of the classified ads.

People who decide to volunteer sign an informed consent form, knowing they can back out at any time, for any reason, and receive pro-rated payment for their time.

Typically, Ballow screens twice as many candidates as he needs, using urine or serum tests to weed out illicit drug users and pregnant women. A physical is given, and every procedure is explained. So, too, are potential risks, benefits -- of which there are usually none -- discomforts (needle pricks, for example) and the course of treatment in case of a medical complication.

Studies often require an overnight stay. The longest one called for three weeks' confinement.

"I had one guy the other day who had gone through the whole screening and then said: 'I just don't like needles. I don't think I can handle the blood draws,' " Ballow recalls. "I said, 'This probably isn't the hobby for you.' "

The greater the inconvenience and the longer the study, the more subjects are paid. Average reimbursement is between $500 and $1,000, Ballow says. The fees must be enough to attract subjects, but not so much that they're considered coercive.

And accommodations? Well, the hospital's pharmacokinetics lab is not the Hilton -- but it's not terrible, either. Volunteers share rooms, sleep on bunk beds, have blood drawn while sitting in Barcaloungers and, in down time, play pool, watch videos and read books.

And yes, they eat hospital food.

"You get a dozen guys confined for a week, and a social structure will evolve," Ballow explains as he walks down past one of the dorm-style rooms. "Friendships form. Cliques form. One guy won't like another guy or whatever."

In Ballow's 8 1/2 years at the lab, the worst side effects he has seen in volunteers are severe gastrointestinal reactions -- nausea, vomiting and diarrhea -- usually when the drug proved toxic. They did not require hospital stays.

But last year in Rochester, a research project went fatally awry.

A student volunteer at the University of Rochester's medical center taking part in a study on the effects of smoking and air pollution died of an overdose of lidocaine, an anesthetic. Her family won an undisclosed settlement from the school. The National Institutes of Health ordered the university to overhaul the way research projects involving human subjects are planned, monitored and reviewed, threatening to pull its federal research funds if changes weren't made.

Debbie Cederman has participated in three or four studies on mouth rinses and toothpastes at UB's Dental School.

"The money is definitely the motivator. But it's convenient for me to do it, and they can rely on me to show up," says Ms. Cederman, who works at the school as a senior dental assistant.

Committees designed to review projects involving human subjects are concerned foremost with patient safety, says James Lee, chairman of the UB's Investigational Review Board.

"Our main focus is to ensure that the patient knows exactly what is going on. And it's utterly important that their confidentiality be protected," he says.

"Then the whole issue of coercion has to be looked at. Say you took a student in a classroom, and that student is part of the teacher's research. You have to make sure that his participation in no way affects his standing in the class."

One of the most widely publicized local cases of research involving human subjects involved not healthy volunteers, but AIDS patients.

In 1991 Lee and his panel rejected an Atlanta doctor's proposal to treat AIDS patients at Erie County Medical Center with an experimental blood heating procedure that they concluded was dangerous and ineffective.

Another case involved dead subjects. In this instance, UB's IRB approved a project that al-lowed researchers to replace crash test dummies with cadavers to study auto safety.

"Well, we went round Robin Hood's barn with that. We didn't know what to do," Lee recalls. If you get the next of kin's permission, then if Bobby didn't like Aunt Matilda, he'd say: 'Sure. Go ahead.' "

Eventually board members decided that they would approve the project only if people agreed to donate their bodies to the project, just as they would for a medical school's anatomy class.

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