Placebo talks : modern perspectives on placebos in society

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Amir Raz and Cory Harris

Her lab results showed no response to the drug. When I offered her a box of tissues, her crying intensified. She soon fell into near hysterics. Her wailing was the only sound in the room.

I told her we would re-dose the rituximab. And Lillian did get better. Lown, now 94 years old, is a retired cardiologist best known for developing the direct current defibrillator used to resuscitate victims of cardiac arrests. He also accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an organization he co-founded with a Russian cardiologist.

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My colleagues and I published the largest case series of fibrillary glomerulonephritis patients treated with rituximab to date, and Lillian is the clear outlier, the only patient with advanced kidney failure who responded to the drug. We had no explanation for her success. Lown probably would argue that my optimistic words were a key player.

It flows from the deepest intent of doctoring, to help a patient cope when a condition is hopeless and to recover whenever it is remotely possible. Their findings were confirmed in a macaque model, in which the loneliest monkeys not only expressed high levels of pro-inflammatory genes but also, when challenged with simian immunodeficiency virus, were unable to clear the virus as quickly or effectively as highly sociable monkeys.

Placebo Talks : Modern Perspectives on Placebos in Society -

Many doctors, including me, believe that our genes are the ultimate determinant of our health, and we are rapidly accumulating the tools to identify these genes for every patient. Yet many doctors, including me, have underestimated the role of epigenetics, which is the study of gene expression modification as opposed to alterations in the genetic code itself.

In other words, the DNA we inherit from our parents influences our health, but these genetic variants sometimes will only surface in the right — or, perhaps I should say, wrong — environment. Epigenetics explains why identical twins, with identical genes, can have wholly different disease profiles. And why do more expensive placebos work better than cheaper ones?

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These are some of the key questions that often come to mind when we consider the slippery and counterintuitive field of placebo science. Placebo Talks invites readers to discover how placebos may speak to their own experiences across health, society, sustenance, and related aspects of contemporary life. Magicians have dazzled audiences for many centuries; however, few researchers have studied how, let alone why, most tricks work.

The psychology of magic is a nascent field of research that examines the underlying mechanisms that conjurers use to achieve enchanting phenomena, including sensory illusions, misdirection of attention, and the appearance of mind-control and nuanced persuasion. Montreal, Quebec H3T 1E4.

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Placebo Talks: Modern perspectives on placebos in society

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