THE ECONOMY may be in the dumps, but you don’t really have to cut those double mochaccinos from your budget. Not when you can bank a few C-notes a week just for being a living, breathing human being. The Seattle Biomedical Research Lab made headlines in March when it offered up to $4,000 to volunteers willing to feed their own flesh to a hungry malaria-infected mosquito. Sure, you catch malaria, but Seattle Biomedical promises to cure you in a jiffy, and pay you a lab rat’s ransom.
And malaria’s nothing—Seattleites are offering up their bodies for all kinds of studies. One UW lab seeks gay men and straight women. Among the criteria? Test subjects’ “sexual activity should include unprotected anal or vaginal sex.” (The lab is researching HIV prevention, and participants can earn up to $45 per visit.) Volunteers for another study collect $650 to be dowsed with garlic and the painkiller oxycodone; known substance abusers and, curiously, left-handers, need not apply. One of the biggest paydays out there is from yet another UW study—complicated blood work involving drugs that read like the ingredients list on a pack of Skittles: ritonavir, nelfinavir. For your troubles: $1,700.
“The biggest motivation that volunteers have is financial,” says Dr. Royce Morrison, director of clinical strategy at Charles River Laboratories, one of the largest human-trials facilities in the country. Because of the demanding schedules for long-term studies—subjects often stay overnight or need to check in at odd hours—Morrison explains, test facilities usually employ people without full-time gigs or with seasonal jobs, like teachers and farmers.
“They have to pay well because it usually means missing work to do it,” explains a UW student and frequent guinea pig who asked that her name be withheld, “especially the ones that require multiple visits.” One urinary tract infection study required her to eat breakfast at the lab once a week for four weeks and self-collect urine samples throughout the day. “It was kind of weird [carrying around] test tubes of pee in a school-like lunchbox,” she said, “but it was worth $100.”