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Outsmarting the placebo effect

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Science  19 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6203, pp. 1446-1447
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6203.1446

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Summary

The placebo effect—real improvement brought on by the expectation of receiving treatment—can offer significant relief for patients. But a strong placebo response is problematic in clinical trials, where it makes it harder to show that a drug is effective. Based on a small study that correlates variants of a certain gene to a person's level of placebo response, a former biotech executive has formed a company around predicting who will improve most from a placebo. The gene could offer a way to reduce the size and cost of clinical trials by excluding these people. But some veterans of placebo research are skeptical that this gene will be predictive across trials and for a wide range of diseases.