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Sniffling Virginia Students to Test Aspirin’s Effect on Colds

November 20, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A group of students will spend Thanksgiving hacking and sniffling in isolated motel rooms. It’s all in the interest of science and the search for that most elusive of medical miracles - a cure for the common cold.

Twenty University of Virginia medical students will be paid $275 each to be given colds and then be tested for five days to see if a medicine can affect the course or severity of the infection.

The medicine being tested is aspirin. Common, ordinary, everyday aspirin. The Aspirin Foundation of America is footing the bill.

Dr. Judy Hsia, a George Washington University researcher who is helping to direct the study, said the goal of the $100,000 experiment is to determine if aspirin can trigger an effective natural immune response to the common cold.

She said aspirin has been shown in earlier studies to cause white blood cells to produce interferon, a natural and potent anti-virus agent. Two aspirin a day, she said, doubles or triples production of interferon.

To test how well this natural virus fighter works against ordinary colds, the 20 test subjects will all inhale controlled amounts of one of the rhinoviruses that causes colds.

″Most people will catch colds from the amount of virus they are given,″ Mrs. Hsia said.

Ten of the patients will receive daily two aspirin tablets, a total of 650 milligrams. The other 10 will receive placebos, or phony aspirin.

To assure that the patients are not exposed to any other virus, they will be housed alone in Charlottesville, Va., hotel rooms. Isolation will be so complete that food trays will left outside the room doors instead of delivered with the usual formality, Mrs. Hsia said.

The isolation ends next Saturday and will include Thanksgiving. Mrs. Hsia said the students probably will receive turkey dinners to observe the day. But some may already be sick with colds by then.

Mrs. Hsia said blood tests will be taken before, during and after the five- day experiment to determine the amount of interferon and other natural immunity cells produced by their bodies. The medical students used as the test subjects, she said, have been screened to assure that they have not been recently exposed to the virus used in the experiment.

Other data will be collected by symptom diaries kept by the students, a count of the tissues used and a measurement of the production of nasal mucous.

″These help determine how bad a person’s cold is,″ said Mrs. Hsia.

Data from the test will take about a month to analyze, but if the results are encouraging there may be more ambitious experiments later.

″Giving people rhinovirus that they inhaled is really just a model,″ said Mrs. Hsia. ″What really counts is ‘can the cold your kid picks up at a day care center be protected against?’ If the data is encouraging, then we’ll do a community-acquired cold study.″

She said medical researchers don’t know why aspirin triggers the production of interferon, noting, ″We’re still working on that.″

But Mrs. Hsia said the study may give support for a legendary medical instruction.

″The old saw of ‘take two aspirin and you’ll feel better’ may be exactly right,″ she said.

Other researchers participating in the study are Dr. Allan Goldstein of George Washington University and Dr. Fred Hayden of the University of Virginia.

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