Getting paid to get sick?

February 13, 2013 10:01:29 AM PST
A microscopic amount of the norovirus in food or water can give hundreds of people diarrhea and vomiting. Local researchers are testing a vaccine, and you'll never guess what they asked study volunteers to do!

Morgan Knight's friends think he's crazy. He's a volunteer and, along with other anxious volunteers, he'll be testing a new vaccine they hope prevents diarrhea.

"If I don't do it, someone else needs to do it because that's how we figure out what works and what doesn't work," Knight said.

"I felt that I was doing a good service," study volunteer Ladarrius Ambers said.

"A little bit nervous," Manuel Diaz, another study volunteer, said.

Knight wants to conduct his own vaccine studies someday. He's volunteered for several flu studies, but this time he has to spend a week in the hospital. They're getting paid almost $1,000 each, but would you do what they're doing?

In a cup is the norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. Everybody had to drink the virus, but about half the study patients got the vaccine against it. No one knows who got the real vaccine and who got a placebo.

But they'd soon find out.

So what was it like drinking a virus?

"I want to run to the bathroom," Ambers said.

Just nerves. Then they wait.

"Many of our volunteers bring their laptops and a lot of reading material so they 're very happy to have a vacation," said Antone Opekun, who is conducting the norovirus study.

Not exactly a vacation. Five days later, how'd they do?

"We didn't get sick," Diaz said. "We were expecting the worst, but luckily nothing happened."

Researchers hope what they learned will eventually pay off for us all.

"We're still several years away from having a vaccine that's going to be available to the public," said Dr. Robert Atmar with Baylor College of Medicine, who is also working on the study.

But the virus-drinking volunteers have brought us one step closer to that vaccine.

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