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Cheering the Volunteers
A research subject advocate celebrates study participants while promoting a culture of safety.

blank Liz Martinez calls her work fascinating, “because you never know which study will change lives.”
Liz Martinez calls her work fascinating, “because you never know which study will change lives.”

Behind every clinical breakthrough are nameless research volunteers—a fact Liz Martinez never takes lightly. “Whether they participate in the simplest study measuring body fat to one that injects stem cells in to the heart, every one of these volunteers is advancing science,” says the research subject advocate at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. “It’s time we paid them tribute.”

To that end, throughout the month of May, Martinez is spearheading a research volunteer recognition campaign honoring the thousands of volunteers who participate annually in more than 3,500 active Hopkins clinical trials, in virtually every medical specialty. The campaign will include announcements throughout the institution and in local print media. But more importantly, she says, the drive is an opportunity to raise awareness about Hopkins’ commitment to protecting and acknowledging volunteers who take part in research that may carry some risk.

In 2001, clinical research at Hopkins suffered a significant blow when a healthy 24-year-old Hopkins technician who participated in an asthma and allergy center study here died suddenly. “It was a gigantic shock to an institution that has always prided itself on excellence in care and in research,” said Ed Miller, dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, immediately afterwards. The institution responded swiftly with exhaustive protocol and consent enhancements. Since then, says Martinez, who has more than 22 years of experience in drug development and research coordination at Hopkins, the institution has redoubled its efforts to ensure both safety and informed consent compliance. In her position, Martinez scrutinizes hundreds of research studies annually for safety and teaches research coordinators about best practices and potential pitfalls.

“Say there’s a study of a potential treatment for people with liver problems and Hopkins will provide an eight-week supply of drugs,” explains Martinez. “I may suggest that staff check in with the subjects every two weeks to see if they are doing well.” Working in concert with the Johns Hopkins Institutional Review Board, she also monitors the consent process to ensure that it’s not confusing to patients.

People sign up for studies for various reasons, including help with a personal medical condition, financial benefit or a sincere desire to help others. “I don’t criticize any motivation,” says Martinez. “We depend on our volunteers and continue to value their contributions. Without our research volunteers, we can’t DO research.”        

—Judy F. Minkove



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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