Placebo Effect

After reading and commenting on psucfb’s blog last week, I was really interested in some of the issues raised so this inspired me to delve in deeper and share my opinion with you all 😀

A placebo is a medically ineffectual treatment for a disease (or other medical conditions) designed to basically deceive the recipient into thinking the treatment will make them better. People who are given placebo drugs are unaware that it is medically ineffective and are told prior to taking it that it will improve their medical condition, many patients who receive the placebo drug are actually ‘fooled’ into believing this as after taking the drug they report feeling cured. This is known as the placebo effect. The placebo effect can occur from the recipients’ conscious belief in a drug, so if they convince themselves that it’s going to have an effect then it will. The placebo effect can also be an effect of the person’s subconscious associations between recovering and the experience of being treated.

 The placebo effect is very controversial, with a lot of people believing it is wrong to deceive the patients in such a way. There are extreme example cases of how the placebo can be deemed wrong, such as The – highly unethical -Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1932-72)*.  This is an infamous clinical study which investigated what would happen if syphilis was left untreated, so patients were provided with a placebo treatment instead of actual syphilis treatment. The public health sector enrolled 600 men (399 with syphilis, 201 disease-free), the men were unaware that they ever had syphilis and they were told they were just being enrolled for free healthcare on “bad blood”.  Midway through the experiment (1947) penicillin was recognized as a curable drug for syphilis, yet the experiments chose to ignore this and refused to save lives by giving the patients penicllin and they carried on with their placebo treatment!!!  Once the press found out about the experiment in 1972 the study was immediately called off, however, it was unfortunately too late as many of the men had died from syphilis and (as they were never made aware of their disease) they had also passed it on to their wives which ultimately lead to their children being born with syphilis.

This experiment is obviously very wrong and unethical, and did not show any signs of placebo treatment working. However, there are cases where the placebo effect has been proved very effective and since this experiment, ethical considerations have been put into place making the placebo effect  more humane. Studies now require informed consent, communication of diagnosis, and accurate reporting of test results. And in terms of medicial experiments, the placebo effect should be used for either minor illnesses or not be used unless all other forms of treatment have been tried out first!

An article in the Gaurdian** supports this, suggesting that 88% of German doctors prescribe placebos to patients who are suffering with mild illnesses such as stomach upsets. Placebos used consist of vitamin pills, homeopathic remedies and (in some cases) even sham surgery, these placebo treatments have proved very popular with the patients, as many have believed that they have been cured. Even though the stomach upsets were not life threatening, the placebo effect is extremely benefical here as the patient then began to feel as though their health had been improved, which will have improved their sense of happiness and their day-to-day business can carry on as usual. Also, the placebo effect is beneficial as the patient felt as though they had been taken seriously by the doctor (I’m sure we have all experienced at some point going to a health professional and being shrugged off and left still feeling poorly, yet helpless lol!).  

Furthermore, placebo treatment has also provided astonishing results in more severe cases. Patients have believed that certain drugs given to them by health professionals have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and believe it or not… even cancer!!!

A real life example includes the case of cancer victim Mr. Wright, who had been given all the possible treatment for cancer and unfortunately was still in agonizing pain and bedridden. A placebo drug called Krebiozen was offered to Mr. Wright, who believed that the drug was a new anti-cancer treatment. Mr. Wright took the placebo and (even though his cancer had of course not disappeared) he showed a huge turn around and felt more positive about his chances of survival, his tumours had shrunk and he was diagnosed from the hospital a few days after taking the placebo.

In conclusion, I think the placebo effect is a positive thing if used appropriately. There is always going to be some sense of deceit with the placebo treatment (the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment obviously went waaaaaaay too over the top with deciving their participants) yet the effect would not be successful if the recipients were aware that the treatment wasn’t actually real. The results can be extremely beneficial to ones life style  so why hate it!?

Animal Research

Hello! Welcome back to the blogging world, I hope you enjoy my blogs of 2012 just as much as you did 2011……. Lol!

So this week I’m going to talk about Animal research. I previously mentioned Animal Rights on my post “Being Responsible with Research” where I briefly spoke about how animals are usually used instead of humans for  “nasty experiments”. So I wanted to explore more into this and find out just how fair/unfair animal testing really is!

First of all, I just want to say I do not intend to offend anyone with my opinions as I am aware animal testing can be a sensitive subject :-).

It is estimated that between 7 and 13 million animals are tested every year for research and teaching purposes. Including cats, dogs, rabbits, rodents, cows, pigs, birds and fish etc. Types of animals vary depending on the country, for instance Chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas have not been used for experimental purposes in the UK for over 20 years. (This is a whole other kettle of fish, how is it decided which animals “deserve” to be tested/not tested… feel free to comment on any points or opinions you have on this!).

There are many anti-animal testing organisations, they believe testing is cruel and that animal tests are even ‘pointless’ and unreliable. For example, it could be suggested that animal testing is unreliable as humans and non-human animals are different; medicine or cosmetic ingredients that may be safe on animals may have a completely different effect on humans or vice versa! (such as Aspirin, results show that it is toxic for rats yet humans are not negatively effected).

Dr John Pippin ( Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) lists examples of inhumane procedures that animals are subjected to due to the use of animal testing:

  1. Creating heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular traumas in mammals
  2. In some cases weights have been dropped onto rodents to produce spinal cord injuries and paralysis
  3. in order to study burn treatments, experimenters have caused fatal burns onto dogs prior to the testing
  4. (Here’s one you’ll all be familiar with) Inducing a state of “learned helplessness” in dogs, primates and other animals by subjecting them to an inescapable source of fear or frustration
  5. Implanting electrodes into the intestines of dogs to induce motion sickness and vomiting
  6. Inducing symptoms of migraines in cats and primates through brain stimulation and manipulation with chemicals

Someexample studies include: experimenters at Monash University investigating reaction to visual stimulations, actually implanted electrodes into the brains of monkeys in order to measure reaction. No significant or useful results were produced from the study. 

Also, The University of Sydney administered illegal drugs (speed and ecstasy) to rodents under high temperature conditions in order to replicate the mixture of these drugs in a nightclub atmosphere!!!

Furthermore, even though scientists are already aware of the effects alcohol has on unborn babies when pregnant women binge drink, University of Adelaide continued to run an experiment where they gave ethanol to pregnant sheep to see the effect alcohol would have on the lamb fetuses.

However, animal testing isn’t ALL bad!!!

Policies and laws that are put into place ensure that animals are only being tested for the purpose of science and helping humans. In the UK, it is considered that animals are essential in scientific research as they help scientists to develop medicines and safely test before administering to thousands of people. Even though animals  obviously do not have identical bodies to humans, they help us to understand the body in many health areas. UK scientists weigh up the potential scientific and medical benefits of the reasearch and the potential harm the animal will be in before the experiment begins! Also, animal testing is only used if there is no other alternative method, it is strictly forbidden to test animals if there is another way of conducting the experiment (in the UK…).

Scientists argue with anti-animal believers that animal testing is not always unreliable and is in fact very reliable and also very effective. A great example is the use of animal testing with  kidney dialysis and kidney transplants. Of the 5000 people who develop kidney failure every year in the UK, one in three would die without a kidney transplant or regular dialysis on a kidney machine. Kidney transplant techniques and dialysis methods would not exist if it wasn’t for the use of animal testing. Rabbits and dogs were used to test these techniques as they provide excellent experimental models due to their close physiological similarity to the human respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Now, in the UK over 2000 patients receive a life-saving kidney transplant!!

Furthermore, as some may accept that results are reliable when larger mammals (such as dogs) are tested as they are physiologically similar to the human respiratory and cardiovascular systems, people often continue to argue that humans are extremely different to rodents so how can we justify testing on rodents?! A case that can help explain this is the example of the polio vaccine!

The polio virus enters through the mouth and once it enters the blood stream can invade the central nervous system, destroying nerve cells in the limbs and the brainstem, resulting in paralysis and in extreme cases even death. The vaccine has shown excellent results! Living nerve tissue  is needed in order to research into the polio vaccine, this ensures that the virus used for vaccine production causes the paralysis typical of polio, and no human or tissue culture alternative is available. Therefore, mice have been genetically engineered to have the receptors for the virus, providing animal models of the disease. Despite the many differences between mice and humans, the use of genetically modified mice to establish the virulence of the vaccine provides an accurate model of humans. It is considered that as mice have a much shorter life span than many animals and they have a rapid reproductive rate, they are desirable animals to test as they make it possible to study disease processes in many individuals, thus gaining a greater understanding of the progression of the disease within a short space of time.

In conclusion, I believe that if used inappropriately, without rules and regulations, animal testing can be very cruel and would be extremely unnecessary. However, when used appropriately for the benefit of science I believe that animal testing is acceptable. The results produced from testing animals are astonishing, as shown by the amount of human lives that have been saved and improved!!!,_Cruel,_Unecessary_and_Harmful_to_Human_Health