"Winnipeg, although we may hate our winters, they've created a business," says Hill Top Research site director Wendy Lazer.
The dew point in Winnipeg is below 4 degrees Celsius from October to April, says Lazer, meaning that the humidity is extremely low during those months.
"That becomes a special environment to test products designed to moisturize," she added.
Hill Top Research has been in business for 55 years, and has research centres throughout the U.S. and the United Kingdo. They've had a centre in Winnipeg since 1988.
The company provides clinical and contract research, and has a full-service microbiology lab to support its studies. Its tests include oral care products, topical antimicrobials, disinfectants and preservatives, as well as cosmetics.
The testing involves what is known in the industry as the Human Repeated Insult Patch Test, in which a number of products are applied to small bandages that are then placed on the volunteer subject's arm or back. A bandage is reapplied every 48 hours over the span of three weeks, requiring short 15-minute visits. It's a repeated insult, says Lazer, because a small amount of the product being tested is applied to the same patch of skin over and over.
During the fourth and fifth weeks of the study, the test skin is given a rest and is observed for signs of reaction, and the sixth week involves a final test.
"Really, what we're trying to do is determine whether these products, under extreme conditions, cause any kind of reaction," she says.
The research has also spawned a fund-raising opportunity for community clubs, churches and other large social groups. Hill Top is constantly in need of volunteer subjects for its tests, and it has turned to larger organizations to supply large numbers of subjects. Individuals are paid an honorarium for their services, and in the case of larger organizations, those funds can be donated back to the group's cause.
Lazer says individuals can earn between $75 and $120, depending on the number of samples being tested, and therefore groups can earn up to $10,000 or more over the span of six weeks of testing.
Groups are asked to organize at least 120 people for a test series, on the understanding that some will drop out or be deemed unsuitable for product testing because of allergies or other sensitivity. Hill Top is located at the intersection of Osborne Street, Donald Street, Pembina Highway and Corydon Avenue, but researchers will come out to a group's location.
"Our goal is to have 100 people finishing," says Lazer. "Some people find that, part-way through the process, they don't like having this Band-Aid on them."
Volunteers might also drop out due to unexpected work or family commitments. "That's fine," Lazer says. "People have real lives. We understand that."
The products are pretested for safety, so the health risk of participating in the tests is pretty low, says Lazer.
"We already have safety data on these, so we don't expect anything, but it is a test," she emphasized. "It's no more of a risk than if this product were already in the marketplace and people were repeatedly using this."
To volunteer or arrange for a group volunteer effort, call recruitment director Jim Drysdale at 453-1835. For information or to volunteer online, visit www.hill-top.com.
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It's almost flu season again and Manitoba Health is planning to launch its annual influenza immunization campaign next month, aimed at people over 65, those with chronic illness and those who come into contact with people at risk of contacting the flu.
Officials say the campaign will be similar to past years, despite the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Toronto and Hong Kong earlier this year.
The World Health Organization has issued a recommendation that flu shots be encouraged in order to ease the detection of SARS, which has similar symptoms, but Manitoba Health says the annual flu campaign has always carried a high profile in this province.
Besides, the risk of a SARS outbreak in Manitoba is quite low.
"It's, I guess, an attempt to reduce any confusion about the diagnosis," Dr. Digby Horne, the province's immunization medical officer of health, said of the WHO recommendation.
Private agencies and clinics may be able to offer the first flu shots as early as this week, at a cost of roughly $10 to $15 per shot. But free immunization for those eligible through Manitoba Health won't be available until the first week in October, when a media launch is planned to kick off the annual flu season and immunization campaign.
Michelle Long, a registered nurse and immunization co-ordinator for Manitoba Health, said people don't get influenza from the flu shot.
"The flu vaccine will give some minor side effects, and people might confuse that with the flu," she said. Others may have come into contact with the flu virus and not shown symptoms before receiving the injection.
The province provides a list of criteria to determine who is eligible for free immunization on the Internet at www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/vaccineeligibility.html.
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The third annual Walk to D'Feet ALS is slated for this Saturday at Assiniboine Park. The five-kilometre walk begins at 10 a.m.
Walk Teams consist of three or more people who gather the support of friends and family to improve awareness about ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's diseas) and raise funds for local services and national research.
Pledge forms are available at any Bank of Montreal location in Manitoba or any Running Room location in Winnipeg.
Teams can register for the walk on Sept. 24 and 25 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Polo Park Shopping Centre, or from 6 to 10 p.m. at Deer Lodge Centre, 2109 Portage Ave. Registration will also take place at the park at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease that kills up to three Canadians a day. ALS results in complete paralysis and death, usually within five years of diagnosis. Approximately 1,500 Canadians currently live with ALS.
There is no known cure, and the disease can strike anyone at any age.
For more information about the Walk to D'feet ALS, contact Tracy Edmonds Leckie at 488-9906. For additional information on the walk, visit www.als.ca/walk.