Baby formula companies spend millions of dollars each year to convince parents their products are safe and beneficial for newborns.
But someone’s child has to be the first to try them.
That’s where Scottsdale’s Hill Top Research comes in.
For about $300 and the satisfaction of helping bring a new product to market, Valley parents let the unknown pass their infant’s lips for six weeks.
"We’re making sure there’s no stomachaches, or colic, stomach distress — those kinds of things," said Wendy Bullock, in charge of recruiting test subjects at Hill Top, a small complex of offices and laboratories on 75th Street.
The company — which has seven other locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom — advertises in a local entertainment weekly newspaper, seeking parents of infants 2 weeks to 3 months old. Eight families have signed up so far for the latest study, Bullock said.
Safety is a chief concern, although the very nature of the testing means a problem could develop, company representatives said.
They said the company is forbidden from revealing either the families involved or the manufacturer who hired Hill Top to study the baby formula.
"The sponsor is placing the study so they can say it’s as safe as possible," Bullock said. "We are not asking people to put their children at risk."
Hill Top has been testing all sorts of products for 57 years: Deodorant, laundry detergent, diapers, shaving cream — things people use without giving much thought to the potential side effects or risks. The ingredients of infant formulas are occasionally changed or updated by a manufacturer, so studies are common, Bullock said.
The current study will test the formula on 100 healthy babies throughout the country who already eat formula, she said. Parents take the formula home and come to the office about every two weeks. The child’s stool is collected, packed in dry ice and shipped to the manufacturer, where scientists will examine it for changes, said clinic worker Kathy Shannon.
Parents have access to a 24-hour emergency line they can use for any reason. The study also employs a pediatrician who reviews paperwork on the test subjects and can intervene in the test if need be, Bullock said.
Parents can withdraw from the test at any time if they feel uncomfortable, she said. Those selected for the full sixweek test receive $300 plus free formula.
In many product tests such as this one, the product manufacturer sends its accumulated safety data to the Food and Drug Administration for final review by government scientists. The FDA then decides whether to approve the product for sale to the public, or whether a manufacturer’s claim on a product is warranted.
Money isn’t the only motivator for people who volunteer themselves — or their children — as test subjects, Bullock said. Few homeless people sign up; most have jobs, she said.
"Yes, some people do it for money," Bullock said. "Many do it because they are interested in getting safe products to the marketplace."
Christine Moody of Mesa said she has been participating in Hill Top studies since she was a teenager.
"It’s an interesting way to earn a few dollars on the side," she said. "My entire family tested the potato chips with the Olestra before they were out."
She said she might have considered the infant formula test, but she nursed her children, she said.
She did, however, have her 4-year-old son test a new flavored antibiotic. He swallowed about one-quarter teaspoon, she said. She was initially "leery" about the test, but trusted Hill Top, she said. Her son is 11 now and still talks proudly about his role in helping develop the product, she said.
Parents have to make a lot of decisions for their children, and product testing is just one of those decisions, she said.
"It’s all very, very carefully overlooked," Moody said.