The Extended Stay Research Unit will allow Saint Louis University to take its vaccine research to the next level.
SLU is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, as one of 10 Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units that study vaccines to protect against infectious diseases and emerging infections.
The facility allows SLU to conduct human challenge influenza studies, which differ from the more common flu vaccine clinical trials historically done at SLU.
In a traditional flu study, we vaccinate people and see if their immune systems respond by creating antibodies that fight flu. In a human challenge study, we vaccinate people, then deliberately challenge their bodies by exposing them to flu to see if they get sick.
A human challenge study typically is conducted early in vaccine research, after an initial Phase 1 study assesses if a vaccine is safe when given to a small group of healthy adults.
Human challenge study volunteers are given a vaccine or placebo, then intentionally exposed to a strain of the influenza virus. Volunteers are quarantined in SLU’s challenge unit for about 10 days.
During that time, they are observed and have blood and lung tests and nose swabs to see if they are infected with flu and shedding the virus, which means the virus is present in mucus and other body secretions and can be transmitted to others. They are not allowed to go home until tests show they are negative for infection for two days.
Volunteers for human challenge studies typically receive compensation of about $3,500 for their time and travel. Nurses are in the unit around the clock to monitor and care for them.
The Extended Stay Research Unit has the trappings of a staycation for those willing to risk getting the flu. Everyone who participates in a human challenge flu study is quarantined in the unit because it takes time for symptoms to develop and the contagious period to end. Those who don’t get sick and are not shedding the challenge virus will be able to leave a little earlier than those who are infected.
The facility can accommodate as many as 24 study volunteers in hotel-style rooms that are equipped with private bathrooms, TV and internet.
Common areas with comfy chairs offer spaces to socialize, read or watch TV with picture-window views of the Arch. Catered meals are served in the dining room/kitchen area, and there is exercise equipment for a quick workout.
The in-patient challenge unit has been carefully designed to protect the safety of study volunteers and non-study participants in the building. The facility is separated from offices in the rest of the building by double-door entrances that create negative pressure. It has a sophisticated HVAC system for aerosol containment because recent animal data has demonstrated flu can be transmitted through tiny droplets in the air.