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How to make money from medical research and donations

Hilary Brueck   

How to make money from medical research and donations
  • You can make thousands of dollars by donating some time or body parts to science.
  • But these procedures are not all painless, and not everyone can participate.

Get dysentery. Play cards with someone who has the flu. Or, spend 45 days trapped in a tiny apartment with three total strangers.

These are just a few of the many ways you can get paid for helping out with scientific research. If you want to aid the science community and potentially save some lives while making a little extra cash, there are some unconventional options to consider.

Below is a short list, though be warned: these strategies aren't all exactly easy money.

Sell your blood plasma

Payout (per donation): around $50

Plasma is the largest component in human blood. It's a protein-rich liquid that contains mostly water but is also filled with enzymes, antibodies, and salts. This gooey, sticky yellow-ish stuff can be used to create therapies that treat people with blood clotting disorders, autoimmune diseases, and even burn victims. Donating plasma is often called "the gift of life" since treatments for some conditions can't be made synthetically and require this kind of human contribution.

During plasma donation, blood is drawn and an automated machine separates the plasma from other blood components, which are returned to the donor. Plasma donation pay varies from site to site, but the average payout is typically around $50 per donation. You can donate safely roughly once a month, according to the American Red Cross, and a typical session takes less than two hours. Find a licensed and certified plasma center near you.

Donate your sex cells

Payout for eggs (per donation): usually $10,000 to $12,000;

Payout for sperm (per donation): typically $35-$150

Egg and sperm donation can allow couples who have trouble conceiving naturally to become parents by using a donor's sex cells. But the time commitment and risk involved in a woman's egg donation is far steeper than what a man goes through donating his sperm.

In the United States, egg donors generally net around $10,000-$12,000. Weill Cornell outlines the standard steps for egg donation, which requires about a four-week time commitment.

During the egg donation cycle, patients are injected with fertility drugs so that the ovaries make more mature eggs than normal. (Eligible women are generally between the ages of 21 and 30). The egg retrieval procedure takes about 20 minutes but may require several days of recovery. Donors should be aware of the risks involved (largely related to the hormones used) before signing up.

Men are generally paid anywhere from $35 to $150 per sperm donation, according to The Sperm Bank of California, but sperm donation can really start to add up if you regularly donate samples (many programs require a six-month or one-year donation commitment).

Donors should bear in mind that even if they choose to donate anonymously, sperm and egg donation is never really 100% incognito. Your DNA always knows who you are.

Spend 45 days on a fake spaceship

Payout: $160/day

NASA will pay you to spend 45 days traveling in space. Well, sort of.

You'll actually be on the ground the whole time in Houston, Texas, but you'll be locked inside a model space capsule (650 square feet) along with three strangers. This simulation is designed to study what being cooped up for a very long time inside a spaceship might do to a person, both physically and mentally. NASA wants to check this out thoroughly before they start sending astronauts on missions to Mars, or to explore faraway asteroids.

Participants in NASA's human research program share a capsule with each other that includes some workspace for doing lab experiments, a little kitchen table for eating meals that are just like what's served aboard the International Space Station, plus an exercise bike and some free weights. There's no internet, but you do get your own little cozy sleeping pod on the top floor.

The fake astronauts "on board" the capsule in May and June of 2024 include an aerospace engineering professor, a US Air Force Reserve member, a commercial pilot, and a biomedical engineer.

And that mission is nothing compared to NASA's CHAPEA Mars simulation, which keeps recruits in a simulated habitat of the red planet for 378 days. (NASA declined to comment on how much CHAPEA pays).

Take part in a clinical trial

Payout: Varies by program

The National Institutes of Health run a searchable database,, that rounds up human clinical studies ongoing around the world. Participants may be guinea pigs for new medical products, like drugs to treat high blood pressure, or they take part in observational research, like a study that records the effects of different lifestyles on heart health.

Subjects are generally paid to participate in such clinical trials, and most of the time, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. For example, a participant in one study in which participants were exposed to dysentery-causing bacteria was paid over $7,000, while a single blood draw or lab visit for a more straightforward study may only be worth $100 or so.

If you do decide to enroll in a study, choose wisely and carefully because not all of the studies on the site are regulated or evaluated for safety by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Enroll in a psychological study

Payout: Varies by program

Paid psychological studies, such as those that examine human behavior and brain function, may not generate as high of a return as clinical trials, but they are generally lower risk and require a shorter time commitment.

Most research universities keep an online database of studies so people can easily sign up. For example, here's a list of the most recent paid research studies offered by New York University. At NYU, you can make $12 an hour playing video games, and receive a $50 bonus if you're good at it.

Give your dead body to science

Payout: free cremation

This last idea is sort of morbid, but if you're worried about being a bother when you're dead, you can donate your body to science. This helps with various types of research and education.

Places like BioGift and Science Care will cover the costs of cremation, which can run upwards of $2,000.

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