My umbilical cord is kept in a deep freeze in Bristol, along with my placenta, nail and hair clippings, baby teeth, blood, urine and saliva. Ever since I was born I’ve given biological samples as well as psychological data. I’ve shared my innermost thoughts and feelings, details of my family history, my friendships and had my reaction times, ears, eyes, lungs and heart function tested.
I’m part of Bristol’s Children of the ‘90s medical research study and have been since birth. I’m 27 now and still a part of this ongoing study that is used worldwide for health and social research findings.
When I tell people this fact about myself, the general assumption is that I am a human ‘test monkey,’ that I voluntarily nominate myself for unsafe clinical trials, that I’m injected with new, potentially dangerous treatments and receive financial gain from it but, this experience is one completely different to that.
I started this journey completely oblivious to it, I was a newborn baby after all. We left Bristol and moved to Devon when I was four months old and mum would post my medical samples. She’d trim my hair and nails as a baby which would were put into a pouch and delivered to the Bristol clinic.
Questionnaires came through the door asking about the environment I was living in – if our house had newly painted walls and if so, what type of paint had my parents used, whether our carpets were new, if my parents were smokers and if mum was breastfeeding me. My immediate family members were also studied, they’d answer booklets about their health, to provide a well-rounded picture of my upbringing.
As I’ve grown older, the questions I’ve been asked have evolved. As a teenager I was asked incredibly sensitive questions like, had I ever been touched by a family member in a way that made me feel uncomfortable? Had I ever used class A drugs or had thoughts or intentions of suicide?
The way in which we are treated has also grown with us, we’re valued, thanked and incentives moved from Disney stickers to shopping vouchers and our transport costs are always quickly reimbursed.
The range of tests I have undertaken is extensive and are often repeated for age comparison. I’ve had my heart and carotid artery scanned, allergies determined, bone density measured, countless blood samples taken and my grip strength, lung function, balance, recall, speech and memory put through their paces.
In the 21st century, data breaches and misuse of personal information is a hot-topic. I’m aware this study has huge amounts of data on me but, I also know it’s stored under a unique number assigned to me, rather than my name.
Findings such as pregnant women that smoke are more likely to miscarry, mothers should be putting babies to sleep on their backs to prevent cot death and peanut allergies can result from peanut oil in baby products have all been thanks to the study.
Information like this saves lives and I’m proud to say that I’m part of this. Anyone eligible can get in touch and be part of the study, including new children who are Children of the Children of the ’90s. It is very rare to have a tri-generational longitudinal study and one day I hope to enroll my own children.
Emma North is a Children of the ’90s participant.
Find out more about taking part at www.childrenofthe90s.ac.uk or call 0117 331 0010
Read more: Bristol’s new Children’s Charter launched