I think that it is because of my own experiences as a study participant back in medical school that I get such a kick out of volunteer studies today. Years ago, my classmates and I were paid to undergo bronchial lavage (a procedure where a tube is passed into the lung and the alveoli rinsed with fluid—all while wide awake), to be infected with the cold virus and then receive various treatments (administered by squirting substances up the nose), and to take antidepressants or other medications to allow researchers to screen for side effects. The greater the inconvenience, risk of injury, or physical discomfort, the bigger the payoff for test subjects.
We were often faced with the question, ‘how bad do I need the money, and how much pain can I tolerate to get it?’ Oh, the things med students will do for $100!
A new study out of Great Britain reminds me of those desperate days as a research subject, and also bears relevance to prior discussions here. The study, published in the Journal of Science Translational Medicine, subjected volunteers to a beam of heat applied to the leg, to induce pain that was 70% of what the volunteers thought they could tolerate. The subjects were then given an intravenous infusion of a potent, ultra-short-acting narcotic called remifentanil, all while having their brains imaged by fMRI, an imaging technique that determines electrical activity in certain brain areas by measuring regional blood flow.