Everyday heroes — that’s the name that Dr. Matthew Davis and his team at Rochester Clinical Research have for those who participate in their clinical research studies. RCR’s research on these healthy adults helps prevent, detect, diagnose, control and treat illnesses.

“We’re always in need of healthy people willing to help out their fellow man,” said Davis of the work he has done at RCR for the last two decades. “There’s really no medical progress made unless healthy volunteers step up to the plate and volunteer to try new things.”

Whether it’s a vaccine to prevent a potential avian flu pandemic or a new diabetes medication, every treatment is tested in healthy adults before being used in affected populations, said Davis, RCR’s medical director. Since 1994, more than 10,000 healthy volunteers have helped RCR in more than 600 clinical research studies.

Participating in a clinical trial is not time-consuming or difficult, though each study differs, according to RCR. Studies range from months up to a year or sometimes more. However, volunteers, who are compensated for their time, find the study takes less time as it goes on. Davis said that the first appointment — with sessions on informed consent to go over any risks and side effects, a comprehensive medical exam and laboratory testing — may take 90 minutes to two hours, while subsequent visits may take only 10 to 20 minutes every few weeks or month.

Volunteers not only actively support their own health care, but they also help others — perhaps even a friend, neighbor or loved one — by being a part of ground-breaking medical research. On a personal level, they have access to new research and treatments not yet available to the public.

“They’re helping the rest of us,” Davis said. That’s also what motivated Davis, a board-certified family physician and Air Force active-duty veteran, to become a researcher. “You feel like you’re part of a bigger picture,” said Davis, who has been a principal investigator or sub-investigator in more than 500 studies.

Some of the diseases Davis and RCR studies — like Dengue fever or Zika virus — are rarely if ever found in Rochester or much of the United States. But studies of those diseases also require healthy adult volunteers.

 He cites an outbreak that did affect the US, the Spanish flu of 1918 and 1919. That pandemic killed more than 50 million worldwide and infected more than 10 times that many, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most Americans weren’t alive to remember that outbreak, it’s not one we should forget, said Davis. “Most experts say it will happen again at some point — the question is when,” he said.

Davis emphasizes the important role that volunteers play in these and all studies RCR conducts. No matter how long research has been going on, no matter how much promise a drug or treatment may have, it all stops without healthy volunteers. Every study needs enough volunteers to statistically determine whether something is a good treatment, which is why Davis reiterates how unselfish such participation is.

“Really, they are doing something that may not benefit them directly, but may have an impact five, 10 years down the line,” he said.