Healthy volunteers enhance research discoveries

People wearing volunteer shirts.

Published June 19, 2019

“The registry has greatly boosted participation from healthy volunteers. The registry has increased both the volume of contacts and the rate at which we receive contacts, so we are able to more quickly meet our recruitment needs.”
Professor, Department of Neurology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Helping pregnant women to quit smoking. Evaluating the effectiveness of drugs in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. Speeding up recovery time for victims of traumatic brain injury.

University at Buffalo investigators are spearheading medical advancements in dozens of health-related areas like these. One key to the success of such research studies is the recruitment of healthy study participants from the Western New York community.

According to Briana Getman, MSW, Clinical Recruitment Coordinator for the UB Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), recruiting volunteers can present a major hurdle. “The main reason studies close or are terminated is because they fail to accrue the number of participants they need,” she says.

CTSI is addressing that challenge with its Recruitment Team, whose goal is to help researchers find volunteers who meet study requirements. The team works closely and actively with investigators to develop study-specific recruitment plans, while keeping community needs and barriers to participation in mind so that the strategies are practical for potential participants.

Whereas people with specific conditions are interested in research because they are looking for help with their conditions, healthy volunteers may have different motives for participating, and can require different recruitment methods. Depending on the study, the definition of a healthy volunteer can even include people with common health conditions, like well-controlled diabetes.

“Healthy volunteers really need their attention grabbed,” says Danielle Abramo-Balling, CTSI Community Recruitment Liaison. “You have to make them interested from the first time they hear about the study.”

“Getting the word out to these healthy volunteers … is paramount to these studies being completed on time, with enough participants that the science is rigorous and valuable,” Abramo-Balling says.

The Buffalo Research Registry (BRR) is one mode of recruitment that has proven to be especially effective in recruiting healthy volunteers. The registry is a list of local people ages 18 and up who are interested in participating in research. It allows the CTSI Recruitment Team to conduct targeted outreach, which enhances the registrants’ level of engagement. And it provides registrants the opportunity to learn more about research projects that interest them.

“This year we’ve seen a major jump in the number of people who have signed up to participate in the BRR, so the power of this tool has greatly increased,” Getman says. “We hear from people in our community that they are interested in research, but just don’t know how to take the first step towards participating. The BRR is a great first step,” she says.

“The registry has greatly boosted participation from healthy volunteers,” says Ralph H. Benedict, PhD, Professor, Department of Neurology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who has used the registry in his research studies related to Multiple Sclerosis. “The registry has increased both the volume of contacts and the rate at which we receive contacts, so we are able to more quickly meet our recruitment needs.”

For more information on ways for healthy volunteers to get involved in research, here are links to the Participate in Research webpage and the Buffalo Research Registry webpage.  Researchers interested in recruitment assistance can submit a request via CTSI’s Recruitment Request Portal.