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The Benefits of Being a Guinea Pig

Participating in a trial can provide you with the newest treatments and drugs for everything from allergies to cancer; in some cases, you get paid too. "These studies gather data on the safety or effi cacy of medical treatments or drugs before they're released to the public," says Annice Bergeris, an information research specialist at the National Libraries of Medicine. The drawback: You may risk testing a treatment that hasn't been proven to be 100 percent safe. Before you sign up, ask the researchers the questions below. Then check with your doctor to see if taking part is a smart choice.

1. Who's behind the trial?
Whether the study is conducted by the government or led by a pharmaceutical company, you need to know about the investigators' experience and safety record.

2. How do the risks and benefits compare with my current treatment?
Some trials may have unpleasant side effects. "Also inquire what the odds are that you'll actually receive the experimental drug," says Bergeris. In many studies, half the group is given either a placebo or the standard treatment.

3. What phase is this study in?
Most trials involve a series of steps. The first, or phase I, trial is conducted with a small group of patients. If the results are positive, testing progresses to a phase II and phase III trial, which can involve thousands of people and is usually safer. Phase IV tests are for treatments that are already on the market.

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