The Life Of A Professional Lab Rat | VICE on HBO

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Testing of pharmaceutical drugs begins with lab animals before moving on to humans, who are often paid for being a part of the clinical trials. This has created a subculture of people who travel around the U.S. making a living participating in these trials. Subscribe to VICE News here: http://bit

[ music, ], [ music ]. What exactly are you doing? What is this surgery? We have a a prototype, artificial cornea made out of synthetic material, we're trying to see if it might work in rabbits. This rabbit is one of many participating in a trial of synthetic cornea implants at a johns hopkins university research facility in maryland. How would this translate into humans directly? I'Ve had three c ...
rneal transplants. All of my transplants came from cadavers. This is a plastic cornea. You can put this in a wrapper just like you do suture it just open it up and do the surgery. Robert adams is the director of research, animal resources. He oversees the care of the research animals which are used for medical testing. So this is a pretty typical animal room. It holds somewhere between seven and nine hundred cages. This is like an apartment, complex yeah, it's like a condo, probably most of them in this room are genetically modified, and so what does that mean? Well, they either put a gene in or taking a gene out, she's checking her mice to see if they are transgenic we're.

Looking for the marfan mutation that was inserted into the mouse, so she's gon na take a small piece of their tail and that's gon na be analyzed to see if the gene is there and so what i'm gon na do with these mice, if they have them, Our fan trait is treat them with a specific drug. We have fish, we have frogs bats, owls, rabbits, guinea, pigs, multiple species of monkey, pigs, dogs, cats, no sheath. Right now. We have rats in here us here at smith, sheriff a mouse as good. As far as genetics go all that stuff, but if you want to do surgery on them they're only this big, so you can do more things with a rat and you can with a mouse. You can use 100 rather than two monkeys right. Monkeys are extremely expensive. These were about $ 7,000. Would you sell me a we have some of our monkeys on treatments everyday and the one thing we found that when they're tired of everything else they'll still eat the starbursts there he goes. Ok, we've been looking to pick. You see that that area on his side yeah, so that's the knee from another pig, so that is a knee nope that he is no different than transplanting a kidney or a heart or a lung, but you can see it right. So it's far easier to know is something going wrong by looking at that when it comes to development of medicines in the united states and around the world.

Why is this center and other centers like this important to that process? Well, in the united states, most biomedical research is done at institutions like this pharmaceutical hub. Is you know if they talk about how many billions of dollars it costs to produce a drug to to develop a drug so they're, not while they do basic research? A lot of the basic research is done here and then, if it looks like it's gon na work out, then it'll go up to the higher level to a pharmaceutical company. Once the safety and efficacy of a new drug is determined through animal research, the preclinical phase ends and the drug moves on to fda clinical trials. In order to gain fda approval, pharmaceutical companies need to make it through multiple phases of clinical trials to find out how the drug affects human beings. For much of the 20th century, medical experiments were conducted on prisoners. Holmesburg prison in pennsylvania was one such facility. Where inmates were the subjects of testing author, alan horne blum took us on a tour of the now shuttered prison. This is h. Block and h. Block was the block that was taken over by the doctors at the university of pennsylvania, who used it to develop all sorts of mints and chemicals and things. So this is really, i mean it's a prison, but in some ways this is a laboratory. This county prison became an adjunct of the university of pennsylvania's medical school.

You had two three dozen different experiments: four different private and public sector operations, including the us army by 1974. News about the experiments here become so negative, so problematic that the city leaders shut it down that was replicated at similar facilities around the country, but a growing pharmaceutical industry still needed to test new drugs on human subjects. So for the first phase of clinical testing. They now hire clinical research organizations or cr os, which do the work of finding participants and running the tests. The biggest cro is covent sync, which has over 80 facilities around the world. We went to evansville indiana to meet some clinical trial participants, [ music, ]. Every study you'll hear about that study where they cut off the toe and sew it back, and you get like watts of money. That'S not real. It'S just one of those urban myth things i'm at the corner, pocket in evansville indiana. This is a hangout for human guinea pigs. Are you a career lab rat? Absolutely. This is what my main gig.

So far this year, i've made 21 thousand i've done. 30-Plus studies, i mean i used to not even look at studies below $ 4,000. Oh, some drugs are more possible than others. I don't have a whole lot of other career options. I'M a lawyer, but i don't practice you're a lawyer, yeah wow. What happened? I i have some competency issues: you're, not the guy with the 10-hour viagra erection right. No, you know that was you thank thank god. I was doing a study in nebraska, probably last september. The side effects i was feeling was like a tingling sensation in my hands and, like my eyebrows, but it got better. Do you feel that doing all these drugs, for so many years, has affected you physically or mentally? I compare it to my college days when you know you go to a party and somebody hands you. Some pills we've been in many studies. Together, robert a career lab rat moved to evansville because of the numerous clinical trials taking place there.

He uses the town as his home base for traveling the country in search of his next kid. I'M a freakin guinea pig lab rat and i love it. You know what how many years have you been doing this now? Seven, seven years, seven years when the mortgage crisis hit, i lost my income, i went homeless, someone said hey, you can do a clinical trial. You can take an experimental drug and you can make yourself two grand 3 grand within a week, jim i've taken everything from alzheimers cancer drugs hiv cocktails. I literally ran with it. I went from massachusetts to seattle, seattle to miami florida miami over to wisconsin. You know i would run anywhere and chase the money robert took me along to a study he's doing in knoxville tennessee 300 miles from evansville, so this study that you're going to right now. How much does it pay? What is required of you to do it? This study pays $ 4,100. The requirements are that i am a healthy drug-free. Individual eligibility or requirements vary from trial to trial. Subjects in this clinical trial must pass blood and urine tests to ensure that they're healthy and that they haven't done. Another study within 30 days does it affect you eventually being in the hospital for so long and not really working.

You know, i work it and you know what i'm using my body to help science. Today, okay, i don't have to wait to get into a car accident and died to donate my organs. I get to watch the results and make money phone [ music, ]. The next morning, robert checked into the ut medical center for a 14-day trial of a cholesterol medication. At any given time there are multiple studies underway, [ music ]. So this, basically, what the job is you come in here you dose they come and take your readings. Every few hours their vitals are taken, their bloods taken, they have time meals and they just observe. What'S going on in your body after you take medicine how's this going so far did the medicine this morning make you sleepy at all. I haven't felt anything so far. No meah, i'm fine good. That'S that's the right answer, dr. william smith, oversees the clinical trials at ut knoxville and sees value in using career lab rats for longer-term studies, since they can handle the rigors of testing over many weeks.

Not all professional subjects are the same, but we we try to use them in a very limited niche, with a very long stay study, where it's really helpful to have people that you know can tolerate being in a study unit for two or three weeks or even Longer at this point at least, we can find no dilla tereus effects of having done so many studies. After having their blood taken and their vitals checked, the only other responsibilities is to eat, which is how they often can catch up with other lab rats. Studies in miami area - no, i said on the other end, i stay in daytona if you've been to go beds and they donate about the same which one you will set up. Another lab rat, that is that's jay-ar. I'Ve never met you, but it's nice to meet. You yeah i've heard of you. Roberts, roommate, paul, founded a website that lab rats used to track down. Studies he's a bit of a celebrity in the world of clinical trials, so wow what's going on here. This is all right. It'S gon na be a pursuit. I'M gon na have made it's like a full-body fur suit, so you want to actually dress up like a rat right, it's to advertise. My website.

Do you like the environment here yeah, i do it's a very structured environment and you can't leave so it's a completely separate world when you're in here it's actually quite difficult to imagine, staying in a room like this for two weeks straight. This was just something i put together: veins needles and blood draws drawing satan falling god's. Calling these guys can't even leave the facility. Yes, they can consume social media or watch television, but they're pretty much trapped. I see a vision dom too many drugs pharmaceutical dogs. A lot of these guys have done up to 50 60, even a hundred clinical trials. Yeah. I take drug to make money to pay bills. Ain'T that funny. It'S not, but it's reality, a diet already another lab rat casualty, some of the labret say this lifestyle is not sustainable. I'M to the point now, i'm looking at other options. It'S not a means to an end.

People who think they're gon na make a living indefinitely. Is this not gon na be possible yeah a lot of people age out, i'm kind of near my endgame? That'S because i'm just having a lot more problems. As far as my blood draws, i bought scar tissue. My arm, how many times do you think you've gotten your blood run at least five thousand times five thousand times yeah it's but uh. If you need $ 5,000, there's very few places and get it legally yeah in two weeks, while clinical trials have given professional lab rats, a quick way to make a buck, there's no quick way to make a drug. The lab rats take part only in phase 1 of testing, which is followed by at least two additional phases which takes several years. Even after all, this testing there's always some uncertainty about how drugs will perform once they're made available to millions of people in the open market. Major news today about the world's largest drug maker, pfizer arthritis pain, medicine bextra, was touted to doctors. Work marketed fiix as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis for three years evidence showed the drug doubled, the risk of heart attack and stroke, how effective our clinical trials and preclinical trials to understanding the safety and efficacy of a medication. They tend to be very good at testing. The efficacy of what appeal does they're, not as good on tracking safety, because they typically are just too small. The drug has a capability of causing a problem.

They test it in very few people, don't see the problem and now they're gon na go and give it to millions of people when you start to take a drug from that really small population and give it to a really big one. You'Re gon na start to see problems once a drug is marketed. That'S when the drug is gon na go from this really small population of people who are being tested on for one week, two weeks, three weeks, six weeks to many millions of people who may have to take that drug for the rest of life. So all the first users are actually the real guinea pigs. That'S how i feel about it. The real clinical trial begins once it's marketed to the general population, [ music, ].

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