Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (funded by the National Institutes of Health) is planning a human approach to studying influenza and vaccine effectiveness, according to an announcement earlier this week.
The university spent about $350,000 to convert 24 hotel rooms at the Salus Center into a quarantined medical unit, equipped with reading nooks and game tables for socializing.
To make the challenge more enticing, SLU is giving volunteers $3,500 in exchange for their time and travel to "Hotel Influenza". The pitch is for volunteers to willingly expose themselves to the influenza virus after receiving either the flu vaccine or a placebo, in hopes that the results will lead to a better understanding of the illness.
The "human challenge" unit is one of only a few across the world that's created to test vaccines or treatments on people after exposing them to a disease.
Dr. Daniel Hoft, director of the university's Center for Vaccine Development, said "you can learn a lot more, a lot faster" about whether vaccines work to prevent infection by controlling the study environment.
The study comes after the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst to hit the nation. Researchers will observe the volunteers, conduct blood and lung tests and take nose swabs to see if they are infected with the flu. About 134,000 infections and 279 deaths were reported in Missouri.
"We're doing everything we possibly can to be as safe as possible", he said. And while flu vaccines are available and recommended, some shots are less effective than others depending on the strain of flu. If they come down with the flu, they won't be able to leave until they've tested negative for the virus for two days. "If a challenge trial shows the vaccine protected a small group of volunteers against flu, you can be much more confident the vaccine is more likely to be worth the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment" for development. Nurses will be in the facility around the clock to care for the volunteers.
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