The Research Donor Program (RDP) at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research—an essential, though perhaps not widely known, resource—provides donor samples to NIH investigators from healthy volunteers for in vitro research.
These samples, ranging from blood and buccal mucosal cells to semen, urine, and nail clippings, are used for genotype analysis, immune function studies, drug screening, vaccine development, method development, quality control testing of reagents, and propagation of infectious agents, including HIV.
The RDP is currently in need of more donors. RDP staff has set a goal of enrolling 500 donors in the program, but there are currently just 245.
Volunteers are welcome from both NCI at Frederick and the Frederick National Laboratory, as well as anyone located on Fort Detrick. For employees who aren’t on base, the RDP visits the Advanced Technology Research Facility on the last Wednesday of each month to collect samples from donors.
A Valuable Contribution to Research
“The RDP strengthens the NIH community,” said Randy Stevens, Ph.D., Applied and Developmental Research Directorate (ADRD). “It gives people a way to participate, and feel a sense of pride in their contribution, knowing that, however small, they still have an impact on the work that we do here.”
Stevens said that his laboratory uses samples from the RDP on a daily basis. His group, which monitors HIV clinical trials or trials regarding other emerging infectious diseases where patients come to the NIH, uses blood samples from the RDP for clinical instrument controls and to validate assays.
“There are a lot of advantages to having the RDP here,” said Stevens. “Mainly, these tests have to be done using fresh blood, and the RDP allows us to get it immediately and do the testing right away. Otherwise, we would have to get samples shipped to us, and the blood might be too old to use by the time it gets to us.”
RDP staff members are careful to ensure donors’ privacy. Samples are anonymously coded, and donors’ identities are never revealed to investigators. (Coded refers to when investigators need to obtain specific demographic data, such as gender or age.)
Donors are also compensated for their time and discomfort, with the amount of compensation depending on the type of sample donated. For blood donations, the amount also depends on the volume donated.
“Donating has been a wonderful experience,” said one RDP donor anonymously. “It’s easy and painless, and it’s nice to know you are contributing to research. It only takes a few minutes to make a difference.”
Robin L. Dewar, Ph.D., ADRD, said that the RDP has been crucial for her laboratory’s understanding of the dynamics of antibody response to influenza virus vaccination.
“Having immediate access to blood samples meant that we could perform our analyses in real time without having to account for transportation from remote sites. Most importantly, the Occupational Health Services staff was an integral part of our team insofar as setting up the donors and collecting the samples in the correct anticoagulant tubes,” she added.