Medical strides require baby steps from volunteers

Research participant Jane Olive talks with nurse Patricia Loftus before getting a muscle biopsy on her final day of a three-month fitness study.

Mayo Clinic personals: White-hot research teams seek vibrant community volunteers for collaborative quest.

Mayo currently has 9,629 research studies underway nationally, requiring thousands of research-study participants — both healthy individuals and those with specific ailments.

"They're absolutely critical. We can't do this without our committed volunteers," said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, dean of clinical and translational science at Mayo.

One of the profound studies in progress is the development of an external, wearable artificial pancreas.

Dr. Ananda Basu and teams across the Mayo research spectrum need both diabetics and non-diabetics to join their studies on the device.


"I think by 2018 or 2019 the FDA will approve a device for clinical use," Basu said. "It's that far ahead. It certainly will be in this decade."

That means if you're a relatively healthy Type 1 diabetic, or Type 2 diabetic who takes insulin, you know there's a leap forward in treatment coming soon enough to perhaps help better prevent diabetes-related complications.

Mayo studies happening right now have the potential to profoundly affect quality of life for millions. Researchers at Mayo in Rochester and elsewhere are studying Lou Gehrig's disease, mesothelioma, heart disease, breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, digestive health, epilepsy, liver disease and many other ailments.

Research like this doesn't happen instantly. Even small steps forward in knowledge can take decades.

Study participant Jane Olive, of Mantorville, has a family history tied to research.

Her grandfather was a researcher, and she said it feels good to follow in his footsteps by helping as a research volunteer. Like Olive, her parents have been longtime research-study participants after being invited to join a Rochester study of aging.

Each participant contributes a piece of the puzzle that could improve quality of life, or even lead to cures. That's an especially poignant contribution for individuals with life-threatening or terminal health conditions who know their role might help a child or grandchild avoid a similar fate.

At any given moment, research-study participants across the Mayo Clinic campus await lab draws, biopsies, exercise tests, metabolism checks, sleep tests, investigational drug deliveries and a variety of other experiences that can last a few moments to months or years.


Those studies require research participants willing to do things like donate blood, exercise until exhausted, get bone scans or experience sleep deprivation — all in the name of science.

Their contributions help scientists take steps forward that, ultimately, combine to prove the safety and efficacy of new medicines and medical devices or even provide cures.

The studies — funded by the National Institutes of Health, industry and Mayo itself — are incredibly diverse, Khosla said. They range from studies about osteoporosis to ALS, sleep disorders, blood pressure and the digestive system.

As but one example, Khosla said, as people age, they become more at risk of bone fractures. It's long been known that the risk of breaking a hip is higher in women than men.

"It turns out that the female hormone estrogen is actually important for bone strength in men as well as women — which was a surprise for us when we actually discovered it," Khosla said.

Basu emphasized that the more human-study research that gets done, the better the artificial pancreas will be for everybody. More volunteers are needed.

"We are constantly looking," Basu said.

He learned from his mentor, Mayo carbohydrate-metabolism expert Dr. Robert Rizza, that you must diversify the individuals who take part in research studies.


"If the same subject volunteers for all of the studies, we are studying the person, not the disease," Basu said.

Many answer Mayo Clinic's research call

02-03 03 artificial pancreas mj.JPG
Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Ananda Basu, M.B.B.S., M.D., discusses ongoing research for developing an artificial pancreas Friday, February 3, 2012.

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