In the modern age of medicine, where evidence based medicine (1) takes a defining role in determining what treatments and medications the health service provides, there is a myth that is slowly being dispelled; The myth of the human clinical trial guinea pig.
Medicine was once a subject where quack doctors would prescribe woodlice to treat deafness (2) but now with double-blind (3) clinical trails doctors can now understand what treatments work and which merely seem to be beneficial due to the placebo effect (4). Taking part in a clinical trial is hugely beneficial for society, as it allows science to determine if it is an improved treatment and to determine the side effects in order to weight up the cost-benefit (5) of treatment. It is highly dependent of altruistic volunteers willing to participate, and many are compensated for the time and expenses incurred.
Obviously with any type of compensation there are individuals who are motivated by the money, Abadie has followed the stories of several people in the USA who do clinical trials for a living and has published a book ‘the professional guinea pig’ (6). However most people do not take it to such extremes and many companies put restrictions on the number and spacing of clinical trials a person can participate in within a year. While many people will admit their initial motivating reason for taking part was the financial benefit, most stated at the end of the trail they were more interested in the science behind the trail and the medical condition they were helping to test a new treatment for (7).
The term guinea pig is outdated and misleading, because it suggests that volunteers sign up and have no idea what will happen to them. This is not the case, as all companies require informed consent and have ethical requirements to disclose the procedure and any risks before the subjects take part, so they can choose if this is something they would like to take part in and they are free to withdraw at any time. The image of clinical trials in the media has undergone a rapid change over the last few years and has now become something that most people would be comfortable taking part in, with fewer than 7% of people saying they would never take part in a clinical trial (8). This holds huge benefits for both science and society as a whole.