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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Volunteers are Vital for Human Health Research
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Curtiss D. Hunt

Over the past year, we heard endless talk about a bridge to the 21st Century, the dawn of a new millennium, a whole new era, etc., etc. It was the culmination of a lifetime assumption that the year 2000 itself would somehow sweep in new ideas, inventions, and programs. For example, we would no longer be eating "real" food. Instead, a special pill would supply us with all of the calories, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals needed for a whole day.

Despite the hype of a lifetime, the new millennium could indeed herald amazing new scientific advances, especially in human nutrition. However, those advances require the continued support of volunteers for human health research. Grand Forks area residents have played an important part in such research for more than two decades.

In 1976, the USDA’s Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center opened its doors to accept the first volunteers to participate in important nutrition research studies conducted at the Nutrition Center. Since that time, we have had the invaluable opportunity of working with thousands of conscientious, trustworthy, and dedicated volunteers who live in the area. These very special people live at home but give some of their valuable time to participate in various studies lasting between one and 12 months. While the opportunity to earn extra money provides some of their motivation, these volunteers mainly want to be part of a process that is dedicated to improving the health of the entire nation.

Our community helps advance nutrition research and will soon be able to advance pharmaceutical research as well. PRACS Institute, a highly reputable private pharmaceutical testing firm, has decided to expand into our community. The presence of another institute in Grand Forks with a different research focus greatly strengthens the position of the city as a leading national center for human health research.

Before any human studies begin, however, both the Nutrition Center and PRACS Institute submit their research proposals to institutional review panels. The panel for each institution completes a thorough review of the proposal and grants its approval in writing. This review process further strengthens the element of trust between the volunteers and their respective research institutions.

Obviously, research at the Nutrition Center is not directed towards squeezing a day’s nutrition into a pill. There would be no gastronomical delight in that approach. Rather, we are committed to the same goal we have always had--to determine how much of a given mineral nutrient (like iron) people need in their daily diet to maintain optimal health.

We will continue to serve to volunteers meals that have precise amounts of the nutrient that is under study. We will continue to monitor changes in the volunteers over time with state-of-the-art facilities. The results of our studies will continue to be published in national and international journals. And more importantly, our research results will continue to be routinely sought out by food policy groups including those that set the Dietary Reference Intakes of all nutrients.


Last Modified: 10/23/2006
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