Why be a healthy control?
A healthy control is a person in good health who participates in medical research. During an experiment, researchers need samples from healthy controls that they can use to compare to the data of the people they're studying.
To begin a study, researchers will recruit people with an ailment they're studying. People of the same age range, race and sex will be needed to serve as the recruited participants' healthy controls.
Some research facilities have active healthy control programs, and you can sign up at those facilities to be a healthy control in case they ever need you. Generally, people who are healthy and between the ages of 18 and 75 can serve as healthy controls.
Before you sign up, it's important to understand what type of research you're contributing to and how your sample will be used. You might want to ask whether your sample will be used for only one specific experiment or whether the facility keeps your blood for future research.
People who serve as healthy controls might volunteer because they want to contribute to science or know someone who has suffered the disease being studied. When you serve as a healthy control, you might be compensated for your time, depending on how far you travel to contribute.
What happens when you're a healthy control?
The specifics of what happens will depend somewhat on what type of experiment you're helping with. Often times, you will fill out some paperwork, your blood will be drawn and you'll be finished.
It's important to understand the forms that you're filling out and ask any questions you have. One of the consent forms you fill out will probably relate to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which provides federal protections related to your personal health information.
Some research facilities will do things like assign your blood a bar code with a number. This is placed on your blood, rather than your name, to ensure privacy.
Does it hurt?
It depends on what you're being asked to do. Often times, all you're doing is giving blood. If that's the case, all you'll feel is a needle stick.
What are the risk factors?
If you're just giving blood, there isn't much of a risk. If you're concerned about the risk factors related to the research you're participating in, ask questions. It's important that you're comfortable with what you're volunteering to do.
What's the recovery time?
After a few hours and a good meal, your blood will probably be back in your system, and you will be back to normal.
Are there any follow-ups?
It will depend on the research. For some research, a scientist might need you to come back for more data, but often times, they only need you once.
Source: Ginger Roberts, a certified clinical research professional and clinical coordinator at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.