Clinical trials and tribulations

I took my own advice and discovered this

I’ve been writing about the chance to participate in medical research by applying for clinical trials that could not only help oneself, but countless others.

Being in the Chicago area, there are plenty of medical trials to choose from, so I decided on the osteoarthritis knee study at Northwestern University.

For years, I’ve growled that we can put a man the moon but can’t make cartilage regrow or even replace it with another material.

This study would involve a regular injection of a drug to do just that (or you get a placebo).

I took the overhead train, $5, and had the hardest time finding the address, so I took a cab, $10.

The nice young man had me go off for a urine sample, and a very competent nurse practitioner took more blood samples than I have ever seen. So many in fact that I held the empty tubes to give to her as she progressed.

My mother was a phlebotomist at a nearby hospital and would practice on us whenever she had taken time off and returned to work.

“Oh,” she would say, “you kids have such great veins to work with.”

I have no fear of needles.

Then I went to the X-ray lab and had a standing X-ray with my knees pressed bent against the film canister. This was to measure how much of a gap was in my knees between bone and kneecap.

I was confident I’d qualify after being thrown off a freight sled in 1994 in Utqiagvik on the shore-fast ice, while traveling through an ice ridge trail on the way out to a whaling camp.

Several years later, while bowling in Anchorage I ventured too far out on the waxed lane and went down with my knee buckled under me. My surgeon thought I flipped the kneecap when he went in to shave the meniscus. I was watching the operation on the screen and he showed me bone-on-bone osteoarthritis.

He asked if I felt pain, and I didn’t. I credit rock-solid quads from years of being a bicycle rider—even in Utqiagvik, where I’d have to hang up the bike when the temperature plummeted below minus-20 or so, when its gears froze solid.

So I was surprised, relieved and somewhat disappointed when I was told my knee gap was not wide enough to qualify for this trial.

I was given $25 in cash, and, less the $15 for travel, I made $10 profit.

The best outcome, though, was I discovered my knee problems are not as bad as I’d thought, and that was worth much more than $10.

Had I qualified for the trial, by the way, I would have earned close to $600 over several years.

Fatty liver

Fatty liver disease is undetectable until it’s too late. And once your liver goes, you’re a goner unless you can get a transplant.

For this clinical trial, I went to a private company, Syngene, in downtown Chicago.

“Syngene is an integrated research, development and manufacturing organisation providing scientific services – from early discovery to commercial supply,” its website states.

I stretched out and curved out so the test coordinator could get a clear shot of my liver with the ultrasound wand. She went away and I waited for the results.

The doctor running the trial came in and showed me a chart with the various stages of fatty liver disease and I was at the second stage, not as healthy as the first. So I had it, he explained, and that prevented me from being in the trial.

He told me to exercise more, eat healthy and lose weight. All the goals I try to fulfill until I’m presented with a cookie and go to pieces.

At least I don’t eat fried food or drink alcohol any more.

A clinical difference

In addition to finding out more about my health for free, I also learned the difference between research-driven trials and those for profit.

Yes, the Northwestern University trial may result in a medication for knee pain, it might make the public release of such a pill less expensive than one done by a pharmaceutical company through a clinical trial company—like Syngene.

The Syngene trial would have netted me close to $4,000 over several years, much more than Northwestern, but that cost would be passed on to the consumer—you. There’s science and there’s profit.

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