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University offers $3,500 to get sick and stay in "Hotel Influenza"

The flu virus changes, making it hard to create a vaccine that's effective

CBS News

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Looking to take 10 days off from work and get paid for it? St. Louis University may be willing to fund your getaway. But there's a catch: You have get sick and stay quarantined at "Hotel Influenza."

The university has converted a 24-room hotel into a research center and is looking to intentionally expose their "guests" to the flu, all for the sake of science, CBS St. Louis reports. The SLU team says the project will help them test new vaccines for the illness.

"Human challenge studies are a way to get a lot of information quicker, with a smaller number of volunteers and less cost than a traditional vaccine study," Dr. Daniel Hoft said in a university news release. He said it's the ideal environment for testing possible universal flu vaccines — a holy grail of influenza research which would offer protection against many different strains of the virus.

To make the challenge more enticing, SLU is offering volunteers $3,500 in exchange for their time and travel to "Hotel Influenza" — officially called the Extended Stay Research Unit. The university adds that the 24 guests will be cared for around the clock by a team of nurses and will have access to TV, internet, and their own private bathrooms.

"Common areas with comfy chairs offer spaces to socialize, read or watch TV with picture-window views of the Arch. Catered meals are served," the press release promises.

The study volunteers will be given either a dose of the experimental vaccine or placebo before their stay begins. They will then be infected with a dose of flu virus delivered through a nasal spray. The volunteers will remain quarantined for about 10 days while researchers study the effects of the vaccine. 

"If a challenge trial shows the vaccine protected a small group of volunteers against flu, you can be much more confident the vaccine is more likely to be worth the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to go through phase 3 development," Hoft said.

The university says it hopes to begin the first pilot program at "Hotel Influenza" by the end of 2018.