We have put together a guide for patients and healthy volunteers taking part in clinical trials at the ICRF. It contains everything you need to know about taking part in a study here, including overnight stays.

Participants Guide to the ICRF (coming soon)

Volunteer Testimonials

Rachel Donnison

Why I became a research volunteer

The infamous clinical trial involving the experimental leukaemia drug theralizumab received worldwide media coverage - and not in a good way. It changed regulatory authorities’ approval systems and the ways in which human clinical trials are conducted. I remember watching the BBC documentary The Drug Trial: Emergency At The Hospital and thinking that I would never volunteer to jeopardise my health, no matter the cause. At this point, I had not lived through a global pandemic, when there was a desperate need to test a vaccine’s safety and efficacy on healthy volunteers for the sake of the world’s public health. In any case, in June 2020, I signed up to be on the Imperial College London Clinical Research Facility’s healthy volunteer database.1

In September 2020 I received an email to say my profile had been matched - not to a COVID-19 vaccine study, but a phase 1 trial for an ocular chlamydia vaccine. Though not as seemingly urgent, chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) worldwide and can cause infertility and eye diseases. I signed up, and was excited to be involved. This was just as the Delta variant was beginning to sweep through the UK and fresh restrictions were being introduced, so the prospect of having a purpose to leave the house was welcome.

 October 2020 I went to an initial screening visit to check my eligibility. I was introduced to a few nurses and doctors, all of whom would be consistently and continuously present during the 11 follow-up visits - a friendly and calming fact that made those visits more catch-up than clinical. After signing the patient information sheets, I was officially one of 66 participants in the trial and would spend the next 9 months trooping back and forth to the Hammersmith hospital. As I was kindly granted the time off as sick leave by my employer, I skipped the 45 minute tube journey and used the time as an opportunity to run or cycle the 9km from my flat to White City. Maintaining good health would be important, I thought, if I am to put myself at some risk of harm - I still hadn’t forgotten about theralizumab.

Every appointment started the same: a pregnancy test, between 10 and 15 mini tubes of bloods, and Schirmer's test - a somewhat uncomfortable procedure where filter papers are hooked inside the lower eyelids and you have to cry into them for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. The time passed surprisingly quickly and was a good opportunity for my lockdown meditation practice to be put to use. Though this could all be quite uncomfortable at times, the nurses and doctors were all incredibly kind, even when I did silly things like not drink enough water, run 9 km to the hospital, then faint at blood tube number 2 (I’m ashamed to say this happened more than once).

Double-blinded, neither I nor the doctors and nurses involved knew whether I was given the vaccine or the placebo, and nor will we ever know. Though curious, I embrace the unknown; if I found out I’d had the placebo all along, it means after all those visits I’m not even immunised against one less of the thousands of global diseases, and makes the whole story significantly less heroic. But someone has to take the placebo, as well as the drug or vaccine, and it’s a rare opportunity to do something that has the potential to impact thousands, perhaps millions, of lives.

If you sign up to the volunteer register, you will be contacted if your profile matches a study - you can, of course, make the choice about whether you can participate. If you’re a perfect candidate, be warned that it could be hard to refuse the opportunity to be so selfless and noble - I know I couldn’t. Though there were ups and downs, I’d do it again; and I’d encourage you to try it for yourself.