Why I became a human guinea pig

Photo: CNN

CNN) — Earlier this week, Brian Shepherd sat down in a small doctor’s office in Bethesda, Maryland. A technician swabbed his arm and gave him a quick jab with a needle.

With that, Shepherd became subject No. 13 in the experiment testing a potential Ebola vaccine.

The trial was launched on an emergency basis earlier this month by the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Disease. It’s the first to test this kind of Ebola vaccine in humans.

“It’s not just for the money,” Shepherd wrote in a Reddit AMA. “I’m very interested in translational research and experiencing it from the guinea pig side is very rewarding. But yeah, the money helps. This one study will fund most of my grad school application costs, though not in time for application season.”

The vaccine doesn’t use live virus and can’t infect volunteers with Ebola. Instead it uses specific Ebola proteins to trigger an immune response. They’re delivered through the body on a modified version of an adenovirus, a type of cold virus.

In the initial phase, 10 healthy volunteers were given a low dose of vaccine. They were monitored for side effects and tested to see if their bodies are producing antibodies. In the second phase, of which Brian is a part, an additional 10 volunteers are being given a higher dose.

All participants will be followed for nearly a year and tested at regular intervals.

Shepherd, who has volunteered for several prior research studies at NIH, spoke with CNN about his experience.

The following is a condensed version of that conversation:

CNN: How did you come to join the study?

Brian Shepherd: I actually work at NIH; I’m a post-doc researcher in a developmental biology lab. Most trials I learn about from reading a ListServ (email list).

I heard about the vaccine study from going to preliminary meetings for a different study.

CNN: When was this?

Shepherd: Less than a month ago. I had my first appointment on August 26. It was just a sit-down, to talk about the trial, go through paperwork and consent forms, explaining what the trial was for. Then they did an initial run-through of my health history.

CNN: What was next?

Shepherd: The next week I had my second appointment. They did a full physical, blood work, health history, breathing checks. A lot of poking and prodding. My third visit was Wednesday. They drew blood, then gave me a shot. Now, my next appointment is Sunday.

CNN: What was it like? You wrote that pulling off the Band-aid was the worst of the pain.

Shepherd: I’m supposed to keep a daily diary for the first seven days, logging my temperature and any symptoms. The next morning, I woke up with a slight fever, 100.5. I took some Tylenol and it went away.

Other than that I feel fine. In fact, I ran a half-mile in a relay race at lunchtime with some people from work.

CNN: You wrote that for each of these regular visits, you’re paid $175. How many times have you been a human guinea pig?

Shepherd: This is my second drug trial. Before that, I did mostly MRI studies.

The first one I did, I was in the MRI machine and had three tasks. They gave me two buttons and showed pictures. If it was Spiderman, I’d hit one button; if it was the Green Goblin, I’d hit the other. So I spent 15 minutes playing Spiderman vs. Green Goblin.

CNN: Did you have any reservation at all, taking part in this Ebola vaccine trial?

Shepherd: None at all.

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