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Posted on March 9, 2008 at 10:33 PM

close up of a mosquito that transmits malaria

If it is, and you live in the Seattle area, there was some very exciting news last week. The Seattle Biomedical Research Institute would like to trade that two grand for the time and inconvenience of having malaria-carrying mosquitos held up to your arm until they bite you. Here’s more from an AP story:

Symptoms usually develop within nine to 11 days, and volunteers will be treated for malaria when the first parasites show up in their blood. The treatments last three days.

In the related project at Walter Reed, where hundreds of people have been exposed to the malaria virus, not one person has gotten seriously ill, said Dr. Patrick Duffy, head of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute’s malaria research programs.

The compensation is for time and inconvenience and the amount must be approved by an independent panel before the study begins.

“It’s a sensitive issue. They want to make sure it’s fair … but not so much that somebody would say, ‘I can’t turn down this opportunity’,” Duffy said.

Testing subjects will get no sicker than someone with the flu and most won’t even miss a day of work after being exposed to malaria and then treated, he said. They will need to stay in a downtown hotel for a few days and get daily medical tests, but can leave their room during the day because treatment for the virus would begin before it becomes contagious.

According to Dr. Duffy, the institute has already gotten hundreds of emails from people looking to participate, which he attributed to Seattleites’ strong sense of altruism. “I don’t think most people would volunteer for this unless they felt like they were doing it for a larger purpose,” he told the AP.

And, of course, there’s the two grand. Speaking of which, the people at Walter Reed seem to be getting as much as $4000. Maybe altruism is harder to find in DC.

In all seriousness, an interesting angle to this situation is the way it turns around the seemingly more common relationship between the developed and developing worlds for drug and vaccine trials. In a twist, the people taking the risk to find better vaccine candidates this time around have both money (by global standards) AND very little direct interest in a treatment for the disease being studied (unless global warming brings malaria to Seattle some day).

-Greg Dahlmann

The photo above is of an Anopheles funestus mosquito, one of the varieties that transmits malaria in Africa.
Credit: CDC/ James Gathany, Dr. Frank Collins, University of Notre Dame

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