Month: March 2015

The Placebo Effect

You may have heard of cases in which a patient who (wrongly) thinks he’s being treated for a condition actually gets better. Medical history is full of extraordinary cases in which patients have recovered from severe conditions through only the power of hope, expectation, and suggestion. But even in ordinary cases, patients and doctors alike are unconsciously affected by their expectations. We call this “the placebo effect.”

For most of history, this has made it hard to determine which treatments were actually helpful. Many traditional remedies have sometimes been effective because they were believed to be effective. Before we had scientific medical research, we could only trust stories and theories. Now that we know how to get at the truth through the scientific method, we still use the placebo effect, but we use it to make our research as precise as possible.


Experiment, Variable, and Control

Just because a medicine really works doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing a placebo effect. Any perception that you’re getting treatment has the potential to alter the way your mind and body responds to illness.

“Placebo” is a Latin word meaning “I will please.” The idea that we’re taking steps to improve our health is pleasing to us. Eating healthier food will help us feel healthier; taking an aspirin might make it easier to ignore a headache, even before the aspirin kicks in. On the other end, we also want to please others, including our doctors. Many patients who start new treatments will emphasize their improvement to their doctors rather than disappointing them.

This can be a problem for clinical researchers. Researchers only want to test one variable in their experiment—whether a certain medication is better than nothing. But there are many variables that affect your health. The way your doctor treats you, the length of time you spend talking to your doctor, and even the size and color of the pills you take can affect the way you respond to treatment.

To get around this problem, researchers set up a “control” experiment. This is the same as the main experiment, with the only change being the experimental variable. This means that subjects in the control and experimental groups need to experience the same degree of placebo effect.

Typically, both groups are given a drug that they have been informed may or may not be real. This ensures that nobody is lied to, and also decreases the patient’s expectation of recovery, minimizing the placebo effect. The less pronounced the placebo effect, the easier it is to gauge the effectiveness of a treatment. In most placebo-controlled trials, the doctors also don’t know whether a patient is receiving treatment or a placebo. This way, the doctors will treat both groups of patients the same way until the study is finished.

Researchers are constantly trying to find a way to make medical research as precise as possible. If you want to help, call (401) 305-5200 to find out whether you qualify for a Lincoln Research study.


Clinical Research: An Option for Depression Patients

Healthcare is the science of knowing how the human body and brain work. This science has some a long way in recent years, but there’s still a lot that we don’t know. Depression and mental illness are one area that we’re just beginning to understand.

At one time, depression was thought of as a disease of the soul or spirit, separate from the body. But we now know that depression is a disease that affects the brain in the same way that other diseases affect the heart, lungs, or liver. Depression is a medical condition, and clinical research – the scientific side of medicine – helps us understand how depression works and how it might be treated.


Clinical Research and the Scientific Method

Humans use the scientific method to determine what’s true and what’s false. The scientific method starts with a hypothesis, or idea, that may or may not be true. Then scientists perform experiments to test their idea. These experiments are repeated over and over under different conditions. If the hypothesis can predict the results of the experiments most of the time, it might be true.

When a new drug or treatment is designed, we have to perform different experiments to find out different things about the drug. We need to know whether the treatment is safe, whether it’s effective, whether it’s better than worse than the treatments we already have, and what other effects it might have. This takes a long time to do, and we need a lot of patients to volunteer to help with these experiments.


How To Get Involved

If you’ve failed to respond to conventional depression treatments, you should think about asking your doctor if there are any nearby clinical trials you can join. Here’s what you should know:

–By volunteering, you’re helping contribute to medical science.

–Most clinical trials involve treatments that have already been judged safe for use on humans. Still, doctors will be watching closely for any possible risks to your health.

–You will be paid for time and travel and receive free care and a treatment that may or not help.

–You have the right to understand what the possible effects of your treatment will be; the right to refuse treatment and leave the trial at any time; and right to keep your medical information private. Every part of a trial is voluntary.


If you’re interested in volunteering for a trial, seek more information at or call (401) 305-5200 for a confidential interview to see if our study is right for you.


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