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Abadie, Roberto

Grant Type
Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship
Completed Grant
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Project Title
Abadie, Dr. Roberto, Independent Scholar, Montevideo, Uruguay - To aid research and writing on 'A Guinea Pig's Wage: Risk, Body Commodification, and the Ethics of Pharmaceutical Research in America' - Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

DR. ROBERTO ABADIA, an independent scholar in Montevideo, Uruguay, received a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship in October 2008 to aid research and writing on 'The Professional Guinea Pig: Big Pharma and the Risky World of Human Subjects.' An ethnographic study of the participation of paid subjects in Phase I clinical trials in Philadelphia, this book examines a group of self-defined professional 'guinea pigs' who earn their livelihoods as research subjects testing drugs being developed by the pharmaceutical industry. Abadia describes not only participants' experiences and motivations as they volunteer but also the role of financial compensation in the social organization of clinical trials and its effects on the ethical arrangements designed to protect human subjects. Findings suggest that continuous participation-experienced subjects may perform more than sixty trials over a few years-exposed subjects to risks they might be unable or unwilling to recognize. The grantee shows how the prospects of financial gain predisposed subjects to neglect risks of synergistic drug interactions derived from their continuous participation. These risks are also neglected by a pharmaceutical industry that depends on the routine participation of professional subjects. And while paid subjects perceived certain trials, like those involving psychiatric or genetic drugs, to be especially dangerous, financial incentives still led them to volunteer. He argues that while today's paid subjects seem to be more informed about risks than previous populations, their participation in trials research still poses ethical questions. Financial compensation creates a new type of market-captive population whose ability to consent is jeopardized by financial inducements. This situation challenges the basic ethical assumptions that guide current Institutional Review Boards (IRBs).