In the fast developing but often confusing field of placebo research the Placebo Special Interest Group of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and the Pain Management Research Institute (PMRI) will be holding a cutting-edge symposium to explore the latest research and explain how this information may be applied clinically to enhance patient outcomes.
The first symposium of its kind in Australia, the Placebo Symposium 2017 has attracted experts from the USA, Germany, Portugal and Australia covering every aspect of the field.
“With the exponential growth in the field of placebo over the past few years, it is often difficult for clinicians to know how to ethically apply this information in clinical practice and no one wants to feel they are trying to deceive their patients,” said Associate Professor Damien Finniss, who developed the idea for the symposium along with his colleague Dr Duncan Sanders, both from the University of Sydney.
“In the past the medical world has viewed the placebo effect with skepticism but we are now understanding that placebo is not really about administering an inert substance, rather it is maximising the therapeutic ritual and this can lead to measurable changes in the patient’s brain, for example specific neurotransmitter release.
“One of the most significant breakthroughs is that we appreciate that you do not have to give a placebo to activate placebo effects. Placebo effects are a part of routine clinical practice, and we can harness these effects on a daily basis. Furthermore, understanding how to minimise the negative counterpart, or nocebo, is also important.”
Academic Health Psychologist Dr Kate Fasse from the University of New South Wales will be presenting her nocebo research at the symposium. Her studies show that changing from one medication to another can reduce treatment effectiveness and increase side effects, even when the pills are all placebos. Similarly, being able to choose between two different treatments, again both placebos, decreased side effects and increased treatment efficacy. This highlights the importance of understanding psychological effects when prescribing treatment.
While most research has focused on acute settings, the symposium will set a challenge for future research to investigate the value of the placebo effect for more persisting or chronic conditions.
A pioneer in placebo research in Australia, Associate Professor Finniss is looking forward to the event: “When I started in this field in the early 2000s, I believe that I was essentially the only person in Australia doing so at the time, but in the past five years the field has grown immensely and it now represents an exciting way to better understand the human-mind-body interaction and a potentially important avenue to improve pain management and broader health care.” It is therefore appealing to a wide range of researchers and clinicians.