Do Good for Pay: Challenge Unit at IWK seeking participants to help improve whooping cough vaccine

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If we’ve learned anything over the last several years, it is the value of vaccines in our lives. 

But what we probably don’t understand is the work and research that goes into developing these vaccines and making them safe. What we also take for granted is the role of everyday people who choose to volunteer for medical research studies that create treatments like vaccines that keep us all healthier and safer.

“Studies are not possible without participants,” explains Dr. May Elsherif. “They are the lifeline of clinical trial research that aims at improving standard of care.” 

Dr. Elsherif  would know. She is a clinical scientist and the Director of Laboratory Operations at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology’s (CCfV) Challenge Unit located at the IWK Health Centre. The CCfV’s Challenge Unit is Canada’s first and only fully integrated collaborative vaccine research facility where participants can be fully isolated and studies can be safely conducted and monitored 24/7 by experienced research staff and infectious disease experts

In her role, Dr. El Sherif has overseen numerous academic and industry-sponsored clinical trials and studies – including controlled human challenge studies – that have required the participation of volunteers to acquire results and data to improve the effectiveness of vaccines in saving lives. Further to this, and most important to the success of these studies, Dr. El Sherif’s job is to ensure the studies are safe and do no lasting harm to the volunteers.

“Participant safety is a core principle in research studies,” says Elsherif. “Participant safety is embedded in every component of the trial process – from study design to sample collection to physician oversight. At every step, these measures and others ensure participant safety and well-being ” 

Explaining safety is important for CCfV as they are in the process of looking for volunteers to participate in a study into creating a better vaccine for the whooping cough. Also known as pertussis, whooping cough is a contagious respiratory illness that can be extremely serious, for babies and young children but is mild in adults. According to the Ontario Department of Health, between 1,000 to 3,000 Canadians are infected with whooping cough each year with another 20 to 40 million cases worldwide and an estimated 400,000 deaths. Performance of current vaccines is sub-optimal resulting in recurrent outbreaks of pertussis, such as the recent outbreak in Alberta (Whooping cough outbreak in Lethbridge area, 16 cases reported | CTV News) that can result in serious illness and consequences.  

“As recent outbreaks have shown, better vaccines are needed for better prevention of a disease that affects vulnerable babies and young children,” says Elsherif.

CCfV researchers are looking for participants between 18-40 years of age, in good health, and able to stay for up to 16-21 nights in the Challenge Unit. The unit itself is one of two fully isolated testing facilities in Canada where participants have access to full-board services, accommodation as well as remote connectivity to work, study and/or leisure. For their commitment, participants are not only compensated financially but also get to be part of an international effort to help save lives both in Canada and across the globe. 

“People participate for a variety of reasons – some for a challenge, some to contribute to something they know could help save lives,” says Elsherif.  “While participants are often happy to finish isolation, they also feel well-supported by the staff.”

If you or anyone you know may be interested in participating in the research, you can find out more by visiting or calling the CCfV Challenge Unit at (902) 266-6510. Or if you want to sign up for the study, you can do so at

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