Derby British Science Association

Science and Engineering in Derby and Derbyshire

Be the Bunny

One of the most important parts of science is the experimenting bit. It’s also probably the most enjoyable part for many scientists. Some experiments involve several hundred tiny cells, others involve doing things to chemicals and hoping you don’t blow the lab up, and some involve bits of dead pig (Forensic Scientists are a macabre bunch). However, in medical and psychological science many of their experiments involve people. Real live people. Like you.

Commercial pharmacutical studies, the sort you sometimes see advertised on the back of buses, often don’t have big issues geting participants. They can afford to pay a fair bit for inconvenience, and importantly, advertising. To try and make things as straightforward as possible, and to avoid hormones messing up the results every three weeks, they generally use healthy adult males in trials. However, outside of pharmacutical trials there is a great deal of academic research which needs participants who are children, female, and unhealthy. Some research is done face to face, and for these participants are generally given some travel expenses, whilst other research is done over the internet and though you won’t get any money you can have the warm glow that you’ve contributed to knowledge.

At distance

Harvard University’s Project Implicit  is a long term study into people’s perceptions, and implicit assumptions.
Finding out more about decisions that people make unconsciously (that is without thinking rather than while you are asleep!) is an important part of psychology, and particularly for social psychology. For instance a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (or PNAS), an American journal that covers a range of sciences, found that unknowingly science departments were making implicit assumptions about female researchers which has affects for both the researchers themselves, and future science students. (the study itself is here). If nothing else Project Implicit is a great opportunity to think about how you view the world, and perhaps don’t realise that you do.

Synaesthesia is most commonly thought of as “that thing when people hear colours” but actually it covers a wide range of sensory links. For example if the letter A is always orange to you (it isn’t it’s red clearly), the Wedding March sounds green, or you smell something square right now that is a synaesthetic response.
The Synaesthesia Research Group, which is based at the University of Edinburgh but hosts research from elsewhere too, is not only interested in people who have definite synaesthetic responses to stimulus. They have two current pieces of research you can join in with, a questionnaire and an online study which is a bit more involved (depending on your responses it can take about 40mins).
Their work is trying to discern what the biological reasons for Synaesthesia might be, and hopefully use this in further work on cognition and memory for people without Synaesthesia.

The Parkinson’s Voice Initiative is a phone based study which asks you to repeat a few simple (if slightly strange) sentences and noises. You may have read about the studies which attempt to utilise voice patterns to identify whether people are developing Parkinson’s, and other neurological conditions. It takes just a few minutes of your time (though do it while you’re alone because you do feel a bit of an idiot) and could help with earlier diagnosis.

Have you broken up recently? Put down that Ben and Jerry’s and put your heartbreak to good use by helping the Australian National University Psychology Department with their current research  into romantic splits

In person…at your own home
The Bipolar Disorder Research Network, as you might guess from the name, is focussed on research relating to Bipolar Disorder, or as it is often called Manic Depression. Their work is run from the combined efforts of the University of Birmingham and Cardiff University. They are looking for participants who have had episodes of extreme high mood, otherwise known as hypomania. Bipolar Disorder can be very manageable, but for some people it can make living the way they want, and need to, almost impossible. Research into the causes of high and low moods in people who have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is helping the BDRN researchers investigate the genetic causes behind it. They are so keen on finding participants that they’ll come to you, find out more here.

A bit of travel…
If you can get to London easily (and were going anyway, because they’ll only pay travel inside London) the Blakemore Lab at UCL has several studies currently looking for participants. At the moment they’re mostly looking for people under 18, but they research into different areas of neuroscience and cognition so it’s worth keeping an eye on their site.

If you have responsibility for a very youthful human the University of Birmingham has several ongoing studies about language acquisition and cognitive development. They even have a study in which their tiny participants get something to eat.

If you aren’t squeamish at the prospect of needles and can pop down to Oxford easily the University of Oxford’s Vaccine Group are seeking participants for several meningitis based studies. Roughly 10 people in 100,000 contract Viral Meningitis, and that’s just in northern hemisphere Western countries with relatively good space in housing, and reasonable hygiene. The incidence of both forms of meningitis is much higher in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa the incidence is high enough to have earned the area the nickname The Meningitis Belt.

The Parkinson’s Association keeps a list of studies which are available to both people with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and those who do not, which can be accessed here.

Again for people who are happy with being needled, the Jenner Institute,  in Oxford, is looking for participants for their studies. Their UK based studies give them a basis for further trials in countries where Malaria, TB and influenza still kill people on a daily basis.

If you have a diagnosis of Systemic Lupus and would like to contribute to research into the condition, the Lupus Foundation and Guy’s Hospital are looking for people to take part in their study. You do have to hand over a bit of your blood, but the prospect of better treatments for the condition might make that little scratch more tolerable.

Are you over 60? Can you stay still and tolerate a slightly annoying humming noise? Then the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Oxford may just be the place to take yourself and your brain. They’re using MRI scanning to investigate how exercise impacts of brain plasticity. Yes, that means they want some sweat first, but it’s at a fitness studio specifically designed for people who aren’t gym bunnies. Find out more here.

Post Mortem
It’s a rather depressing fact but the one thing that is pretty much guaranteed is death. However, for medical research dead people are particularly useful study participants-for a start you don’t have to get them endless cups of tea while they lurk around the lab.
You can donate your brain to Parkinson’s research, regardless of whether you have Parkinson’s , and for Autism research.

If you want to donate your whole body to medical science, for instance to help train baby doctors, the Human Tissue Authority is in charge of how all that works. They have an interactive map explaining which medical schools may accept donations and the laws that govern tissue donation for both research and training purposes.


About Lotte

Likes making a mess and arguing.

4 comments on “Be the Bunny

  1. Natasha
    September 29, 2012

    Love this article, Lotte. As well as helping out these worthy experiments, I think more scientists should be aware of the PhD scale experiments that are going on that also require willing participants. My postgrad common room is full of empty and ignored participant sign up sheets hopefully posted by desperate students. 
    Only requiring a small amount of time (even MSc students can’t deny that we can afford to waste an hour or ten…) you’d think fellow scientists would be more willing to help out their piers. Apparently not. 

    I hope people read your article and think twice about using some of their time for these causes as well as the even less well advertised ones.

    Anyway, I’m off to try on several different types of shoes and walk along a platform in front of people with clipboards… AKA doing my bit for science 🙂 

    • Lotte
      September 29, 2012

      Shoe science sounds like my kind of science!

  2. Leoma
    May 23, 2013

    Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Cheers

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This entry was posted on September 28, 2012 by in Biology, Medicine, Scientific Disciplines and tagged , , , , , , , .

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