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Man plays part in research

June 24, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Allen Clopper of Washington County gave part of his toenails to science without hesitation.

If the Johns Hopkins Research Center in Hagerstown wanted his toenail samples for the medical studies they were doing, then they had a sound reason, Clopper said last week.

In the next few weeks, Clopper, 87, and about 32,000 others participating in the CLUE II study will receive follow-up questionnaires.

The questionnaire is the fourth since the study began in 1989, when blood samples were taken from each participant. The form repeats some questions included on earlier questionnaires because people's medical status may have changed since the last questionnaire was sent out.

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Clopper said he will fill it out and return it as he has done for the others because if he can help with the medical studies, he would like to do so.

That kind of attitude is what has made Washington County residents so valuable to the scientific community, Dr. George W. Comstock, a Johns Hopkins researcher in the county since 1962, said last week.

Washington County residents have been studied for more than 80 years after a researcher in 1921 concluded that county residents are "in no way peculiar," which is a scientific way of saying the population is normal, he said.

"Nowadays, we would say they are pretty representative" of the U.S. population, said Comstock, director of the Washington County Training Center for Public Health Research.

An added bonus has been that almost all the residents participating in John Hopkins studies have remained in the region and about 80 percent return the questionnaires, Comstock said.

"Washington County has contributed more to public health per person more than any other place in the world," he said.

The toenail samples, for example, were collected in 1989 because researchers wanted to determine the levels of cadmium and zinc in the body's tissues and whether there was a connection between those levels and the risk of getting prostate cancer, said Sandy Hoffman, assistant director of the training center.

Clopper is modest about his role in the studies, which have resulted in hundreds of scientific papers, saying he is just "another individual" doing the right thing.

To get 25,000 people to participate in the first CLUE study in 1974, a marketing campaign with the slogan "Give us a clue to cancer" was launched and participants were promised free blood pressure checks, Comstock said. Such checks were not easily obtainable back then, he said.

About 32,000 people took part in the CLUE II study, including about 8,300 who, like Clopper, participated in both.

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