"Herpes is being researched a lot because there is a lot of it," says Julia Jordan, the research director for Westover Heights Clinic, where the majority of Portland's STD studies are based. These studies pay out as much as $50 a visit, and provide free medicine. Other classic diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea are unfortunately studied far less frequently, because most research is funded by pharmaceutical companies. "There are already proven therapies, so there's really no need for a lot of studies," explains Jordan. (Sorry, folks, if you're touched with gonorrhea, you probably won't be turning that drip-drip-drip into a flow of cash.)
One of the most interesting ongoing studies at Westover is centered around the psychological impacts of the first-time herpes sufferer. Westover has already recruited enough women for the study, but are looking for more men to interview about the ways they reacted to their first outbreak of herpes, and how they are re-adjusting their sex life. This study follows participants for six months.
"It might help ease the transition," insists Jordan, who explains that the test subject will be talking with experts who have seen hundreds of herpes cases--and have calmed the victims. In addition, Westover is currently recruiting for two additional herpes studies: One is a "super-short course," in which participants take a large dose of medicine for one day, in an attempt to wipe out symptoms; the other is a detailed study that involves genital swabs and 120 consecutive days.
According to Jordan, people are motivated to do these studies for the sake of personal gain--either to receive money, or to receive medication. "A lot of these people won't do studies if there is a placebo control," points out Jordan. (As part of most studies, a portion of participants receive a placebo and serve as a baseline control group.) The other kind of participants, say Jordan, "are giving to science."
Of course, researchers hope that participants fall into the second camp--those people are much more detail-orientated and usually help provide more precise insights into STDs--but research clinics will often take what they can get.
The Research and Education Group also conducts studies in Portland. These studies focus on HIV/AIDS research. Currently, they are looking for participants for a HIV vaccine. "It is really for people who have no sex or are in a monogamous relationship," says Steven Pierson, research support coordinator. They are looking for males ages 18-50.
This fall, Westover will also conduct a study looking at the validity of a HPV vaccine. For more information about on-going studies, contact Westover Heights Clinic, 226-6678 or Research and Education Group, 229-8428.