Blog Main Image - EDITORIAL Micah Mansfield
February 28, 2021

How Volunteers Fuel Immune System Disease Research

When Micah Mansfield learned that he could help scientists better understand the immune system through the Sound Life Project, he didn’t think twice about signing up.

“I learned what the commitment was — just doing blood draws once in a blue moon and weekly check-ins which take about a minute — and thought ‘why not participate?’” says Micah, age 29. “It's really easy on my end, but the benefits are pretty huge for the science community.”

Clinical research often explores new treatments and therapies. But not all studies are limited to people who have specific conditions or are of a certain age. For the Sound Life Project, BRI’s team has recruited people between ages 25-35 and 55-65 with no immune system diseases (like autoimmune diseases or cancer).

“We’re looking at how healthy immune systems change as people age, and how lifestyle and environmental factors alter immune systems,” says BRI’s President Jane Buckner, MD. “This will help us understand which changes are normal and which ones contribute to disease.”

Participants give occasional blood samples and fill out a weekly survey in an app designed by BRI researchers. The multi-year study aims to create a highly detailed picture of healthy immune systems. This data could inform new medicines for immune system diseases.

Micah has always been science-minded, so it's no surprise that he’s eager to contribute to research. He studied science in college and worked as a medical assistant and surgery scheduler in Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s orthopedics department for five years. He recently left that role to embark on a months-long sailing trip before going to school to become a physician's assistant.

As a study participant, Micah enjoyed learning about the Sound Life Project, and about when and how scientists were collecting data.

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“I thought it was really interesting how they studied my blood before and after I got the flu vaccine to see how my immune system reacted,” he says.

This is the first time Micah has volunteered for a research study — but it likely won’t be his last. He’s even tried to get family members involved in research, and they said they might do so after the pandemic.

“I know I'm just a small, small part of it and I'm not doing the actual research,” Micah says. “But any part helps and all parts are critical, because if no one volunteered, these studies literally would not be possible. I enjoy participating. For me, it’s really impactful.”

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