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Some Ohio State research studies struggle to find participants

The OSU Wexner Medical Center is located at 410 W. 10th Ave. Recently, some researchers have had trouble getting students to enlist in their studies. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

The OSU Wexner Medical Center is located at 410 W. 10th Ave. Recently, some researchers have had trouble getting students to enlist in their studies.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Some researchers at Ohio State have struggled to recruit student participants for studies despite using multiple venues for advertising. Some students, though, said they attribute the low participation rates to a lack of understanding what would be asked of them.

Rose Hallarn, program director of clinical trial recruitment for the OSU Center for Clinical and Translational Science and institutional liaison for ResearchMatch, a registry of volunteers who want to learn more about research studies, said research is crucial to moving forward.

“Without research there is no movement forward on what the best methods are for health care,” Hallarn said. “Any medication that you are taking today … (has) happened because of research.”

Some research studies are closed prematurely if researchers are not able to get enough volunteers to participate, and Hallarn said this can slow down research more than anything else.

“The biggest limiting factor (in) moving science forward and in understanding the best ways to improve our health and to treat current health issues, diseases and conditions is that there aren’t enough study participants being enrolled quickly enough to help that process happen,” Hallarn said.

While OSU could potentially be a huge pool of volunteers, some researchers haven’t had many students respond to their recruitment efforts.

There were no OSU undergraduate participants in two recent asthma studies conducted at the OSU Asthma Center, said John Mastronarde, professor of internal medicine and director of the clinical trials office for the division of pulmonary, allergy, critical care and sleep medicine at the Wexner Medical Center.

“We haven’t had a lot of luck reaching students which is a little surprising to me because I think they’re at a time when they have some time to do research studies,” Mastronarde said.

Mastronarde said, though, he isn’t sure students are aware of the number of studies going on at OSU.

Using social media and installing a kiosk in the Ohio Union that would list all the clinical studies available might be better ways to reach students than printed advertisements, Mastronarde said.

The OSU Center for Clinical and Translational Science website gives a telephone hotline number for more information about studies, as well as links to research websites for those who are seeking out research studies on their own through a page called StudySearch.

Trials found on the StudySearch website vary greatly in their expectations of volunteers. In the same search results, one study required two injections of different anesthetics into the volunteer’s lower molar, while another asked participants to take a fish oil supplement regularly for three months.

Study participants first go through a consent process with the coordinator of the study that involves reading and talking about any risks, Hallarn said.

“A participant in a research study is actually much more closely watched than you might see in a patient physician relationship because they are being observed specifically for a reaction,” Hallarn said.

Every study has to go through the Institutional Review Board, Mastronarde said, which makes sure studies are safe and that the risks don’t outweigh the benefits or the knowledge gained.

“The more risks you’re asking someone to take, the more you’re going to compensate them for it because you’re asking them for their time and they are going to take on some potential complications,” Mastronarde said. “There’s a big difference between filling out a questionnaire and having a biopsy done.”

Researchers can apply for sponsorship from nonprofits like the American Cancer Society as well as from for-profit businesses like pharmaceutical companies, Mastronarde said.

The National Institutes of Health and OSU also sponsor some research grants and studies, Mastronarde said.

Molly Hesness, a third-year in environment, economy, development and sustainability, said her main motivation for participating in research studies has been the compensation. She has participated in three different studies so far.

“I guess people are nervous that their information is going to get out, but I have nothing to hide and I love free money,” Hesness said. “I can see how other people would be nervous about the medical aspect of the studies, but my mom is a nurse so I am completely comfortable with it.”

Hesness said everything was explained to her by the researchers before any of the studies started.

Kyle Martin, a third-year in neuroscience, said he has helped out researchers with data analysis entry during a research trial, but has never participated as a subject.

“I’ve been interested in trying out a study and I’ve seen the flyers on campus, but I’ve just never had time,” Martin said. “It’s also something I’ve never done so I’m kind of leery of trying it out and seeing how it goes, but I’d definitely like to sometime.”

He added that students likely don’t participate more often because of a lack of understanding.

“I think a lot of people see it as a bunch of nerdy scientists looking for something that they (students) are not a part of,” Martin said. “The majority of people have nothing wrong with them so they’ve never experienced research or experienced a hospital so they’re not experienced with how research actually works.”


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  2. Of curse they can’t! I’ve spent the last hour trying to find the webpage for psychology research I can volunteer for, that I KNOW exists, but all I’ve found is this article. Maybe you’d have less trouble if the signup sheets weren’t so completely and utterly hidden from google search… every keyword I can think of and several pages into search results- nothing.

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