Saturday, January 31, 2015

In Medicine, Money Talks

Study: Placebos with a higher price tag work better
A meta-analysis found that placebos used in clinical trials of Parkinson's treatments improved symptoms by an average of 16 percent, theLos Angeles Times reports, and the University of Cincinnati team decided to study 12 patients with "moderately advanced" Parkinson's in a clinical trial of "a new injectable dopamine agonist." With Parkinson's, patients lose brain cells that make dopamine, something this drug could combat.

The participants were told that they were taking two versions of experimental drugs that worked the same but were made differently, with one costing 15 times more than the other. They were actually given the same exact saline solution. The results showed that both versions of the placebo improved motor function compared with a base line test, but the subjects who took the $1,500 dose had an improvement that was 9 percent greater than the $100-per-dose placebo. "Patients' expectations have an important role in the efficacy of medical therapies," the researchers wrote.
Of course. If a placebo is working through a psychological effect, anything that helps convince the subject that the drug is betters should contribute to the effect. We would normally expect that a cheaper drug would be less effective than a more expensive drug, because, why would anyone prescribe the more expensive drug if it wasn't? I'm only surprised the difference was so slight.

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