Students still willing guinea pigs after ‘Rennes’

Working as a test subject for pharmaceutical research is an easy way for students to make a little extra spending money. But in January, one drug study in Rennes went completely wrong, resulting in one death and four people being injured. The ‘guinea pigs’ in Groningen do not appear to care.

Test subjects wanted

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The UK spoke to three RUG students who occasionally participate in pharmaceutical research. None of them seem to be shocked by the disastrous research in Paris last month. ‘These things just happen every once in a while’, says Lester, 23. ‘And when it happens, it’s a big news story. But the chance of side effects is still very small.’

Physics student Anton Scheepstra (23) compares the French accident to air travel. ‘Every once in a while, a plane crashes and although that is terrible, of course, if you consider how many planes are in the sky at any given time, the risk of a crash is minimal,’ he says. ‘I still fly.’

Handful of cancellations

Research agencies in and around Groningen are barely impacted by the commotion concerning ‘Rennes’. ‘Only a handful of people that are registered with us have cancelled because of the situation in France’, says Ruben de Jong, who works at research agency QPS in Groningen. ‘There really haven’t been any more cancellations in relation to what we had before these events.’

At PRA Health Services in Zuidlaren, people have only cancelled the preliminary tests they had to go through before the real research after the failure in Rennes. ‘But other than that, the amount of cancellations of the past week is in keeping with those in the recent past’, says Els Heijmans on behalf of the research agency. ‘Nobody withdrew from ongoing research.’

Not willy-nilly

‘Rennes’ may not have deterred Groningen students, but that does not mean that they are signing up for pharmaceutical research willy-nilly. Marloes, a 26-year-old student, says she would rather not participate in research that uses completely new medication. ‘And I wouldn’t readily participate in research about contraception, the immune system, or the brain myself’, she says.

‘Obviously I do it for the money’
Before Scheepstra signed up for ‘his’ pharmaceutical study, he first checked if there were any expected side effects. According to the student, there were none: ‘No side effects had been found in earlier research cohorts in this particular study.’

More than half

And yet the research agencies in and around Groningen seem to have no trouble recruiting ‘guinea pigs’ among the student population. At QPS, a significant proportion of the test subjects are students. ‘Frequently more than half’, according to De Jong. PRA in Zuidlaren estimates that approximately 20 per cent of their clients are students.

Students are welcome test subjects. ‘You need to have a flexible schedule in order to be able to participate in research in the clinics as a test subject’, says Heijman on behalf of PRA. ‘Students regularly participate in a study while they are studying for an exam. They often have a lot of free time while they’re staying at our clinic.’

Easy money

Lester knows all about that. ‘As students, we’re quite flexible’, he says. ‘That makes planning a week at the clinic quite easy.’ Test subjects are compensated, at times up to 200 euros a day. ‘That’s easy money’, says Lester. What he will spend the money on, he’s not yet sure yet. ‘It does create a bit of leeway so I don’t have to borrow as much from DUO.’

Scheepstra does not beat around the bush, either: ‘Obviously I do it for the money.’ Together with a friend, Scheepstra participated in a study which required him to stay in the research clinic for nine days. ‘We get paid a lot of money for that.’ However, the money he earned remains untouched in his bank account. ‘I was going to use the money for a long trip, but I haven’t taken it yet.’

At the request of the interviewees, the name Marloes is a pseudonym. Lester requested that his last name not be published. Their real/full names are known to the editorial staff.