Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clinical trials offer free plastic surgery

Given the weakened economy, many Americans interested in cosmetic procedures have had to nip and tuck the amount of money they spend.

"I would love to look like I was 25 again," said Jodi Richfield, who has children in private school. "But your kids need to go to school and they need to eat."

The 43-year-old Joelton woman recently found a way to receive such luxury treatments free. She underwent a "facial resurfacing" procedure - it typically costs $3,500 - to remove sunspots and fine wrinkles from her face, by participating in a study at the Nashville Centre for Laser and Facial Surgery.

Richfield said the study was an opportunity to receive pampering that she couldn't otherwise afford. And she's not alone: 53 percent of plastic surgeons report business has slowed, according to a recent survey by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Government health officials urge those who enroll in studies not to have high expectations.

"People should understand that what they are participating in is research, not treatment," said Dave Banks with the FDA's Office of Special Health Issues. "In research, the goal is to generate new knowledge using patients."

Besides facial resurfacing, the Nashville Centre for Laser and Facial Surgery is conducting clinical studies in the following areas: hair removal from the upper lip, eyelid skin tightening and lessening eyelid wrinkles.

Cosmetic procedures being offered through the studies would typically range in price from $1,000 for hair removal to $3,500 for facial resurfacing.

People who enroll get the treatments free and in the case of the hair-removal study can receive up to $800.

No guarantees

While the price is right, Dr. Brian Biesman, who is conducting the clinical trials, stressed that he can't guarantee the results will be as good or better than comparable treatments already on the market.

"That's what we are trying to find out," said Biesman, who is president of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery.

The treatments have been deemed to be safe by an institutional review board, though. Such boards are composed of scientists, doctors and lay people who review studies to make sure that participants aren't exposed to unreasonable risks.

The Office for Human Research Protections in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises people to ask the following questions in making their decision to participate in clinical trials: What will happen to me in the research? Will the research help me personally? What other options do I have? Can I leave the study at any time? Will it cost me anything personally? Will there be any unpleasant side effects?

Biesman said all such cosmetic procedures carry some risk of scarring, blistering and lightening or darkening of the skin. Richfield said she looked as if she had a bad sunburn for a few days and her eyes swelled up.

For her, the sunburn was worth it.

"I had a lady at the mall come up to me and say, 'You have such beautiful skin,' " Richfield said. "I have never had anyone say that to me before. I was freckly. I almost cried."

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