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Pitt always on lookout for human subjects

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By Bill Zlatos
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For 10 years, Myron and Marion Taube have taken part in research studies at the University of Pittsburgh covering everything from eye exams to brain scans.

"You can learn just so much from rats and guinea pigs," said Marion Taube, 78, a retired accountant from Squirrel Hill. "Then you do need human subjects to see if these machines will work."

The Taubes are among more than 10,000 names on a Pitt registry of people who either take part in or are interested in getting information on research studies. The registry is expected to grow as all medical practices affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center get registration materials for their outpatients.

"One of the biggest things with the registry is we're not recruiting for one study," said Laurel Yasko, administrative director of Pitt's Clinical and Translational Science Institute. "We can let the community know about all kinds of studies."

The institute established the Research Participant Registry in November 2008. Yasko estimated that 100 of the 5,000 studies at Pitt are actively recruiting participants. Of these, about 25 are looking for healthy volunteers.

Although most of the studies deal with health, some address subjects such as communication or education.

The registry is supported by the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, which funds Pitt and 45 other institutions in a national consortium to improve the way biomedical research is conducted. The consortium aims to reduce the time it takes for laboratory discoveries to become treatments for patients, to get communities involved in clinical research and to train a new generation of clinical researchers.

Just 4 percent of Americans take part in research studies across the country, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"Participant recruitment continues to be a significant barrier to the completion of research studies nationwide," said Dr. Barbara Alving, director of the institutes' National Center for Research Resources. "The University of Pittsburgh's Research Participant Registry is providing crucial opportunities for the public to contribute to advancing new treatments, preventions and cures for disease and disability."

Marion Taube and her husband have taken part together in studies on age-related diseases and eye-testing equipment. She tested breast cancer prevention drugs.

A retired English professor at Pitt, Myron Taube volunteered in a balance study. Wearing a harness, he tried to stay upright on a stainless steel treadmill that moved him up and down and to and fro.

He looks forward to the day when he will read a newspaper article about a new treatment for a disease.

"I'll say to my wife, 'Isn't that the one we were in,'" he said. "Now, I can eat my breakfast feeling better."

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