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Student Life

Selling your body

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0409336
  1. Kate Mandeville, fourth year medical student1
  1. 1Imperial College, London

Serial study participant, Kate Mandeville, talks about her experiences of selling her body for research

As I coughed up blood in the shower for the fourth time that morning, I thought once again, “Why am I doing this to myself?” I had just finished my first bronchoscopy, as part of a study looking into the effects of the cold virus on people with asthma. For three bronchoscopies and a nasty cold I would receive £500 ($900; a750). With money like this on offer, it is easy to see why so many medical students are taking part in scientific studies and experiments.

Able bodied participants

Many experiments requiring human volunteers come from departments attached to hospitals, and adverts calling for “able bodied participants” and offering compensation for time and expenses, often reach a pool of willing medical students. The flexible hours, long holidays, and poor finances of most medical students make these studies enticing.

Friends often pass on tips about the best studies available. There are even medical urban myths circulating about well paid trials--like the £10 000 available for having your little toe cut off and sewn back on or the ultimate study in the United States, which pays £100 000 for simply allowing your heart to be stopped and restarted.

Most of the experiments I have taken part in over the years as a medic have admittedly been a little more mundane. I have completed 16 studies, which have ranged from a one off electrocardiograph to a multipart trial over several months. I have found them through sources such as friends doing bachelors projects, doctorate students advertising on hospital noticeboards, and research centres' stalls at freshers' fairs. Medical students are considered excellent subjects for studies--we are usually young and healthy, in one place for a long time, and not scared of …

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