Researchers have finally located a region of the brain which is linked to the placebo effect (a psychological phenomenon where patients feel better because they think they have been given real drugs, but in fact all they’ve been given is sugar pills).
The research will not just help them to identify patients who are more likely experience this effect but also will help for more personalized treatment for disease like chronic pain. It is giving researchers a new way to design drugs for specific brain types.
There were about 98 volunteers having chronic knee osteoarthritis who were tested. Scientists used a customized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique to identify a specific region in the mid-frontal gyrus part of the brain which could be linked to the placebo effect.
They randomly selected 39 people out of all, and used this technique to identify those who responded well to placebo treatments. 95 percent of the time they were correct.
It is important to identify those who respond well to placebos accurately before a clinical trial are initiated which would make a big difference in clinical trials.
Doctors used trial and error method for choosing drugs to target chronic pain in the past, but this research could help them select treatments that are much more personalised, based on a patient’s MRI scans.
This new technology allows physicians to see what part of the brain is activated during certain type of pain, and choose the specific drug to target that spot. It also helps in providing more evidence based measurements as physicians will be able to measure how the patient’s pain region is affected by the drug.”
The sample size in this study is very small, so it will take a larger pool of volunteers to demonstrate if the technique works as well as it appeared to in these experiments. But the researchers think there’s enough proof to spark further investigation.
The research team also says that because the study looked at long-term pain issues, rather than isolated pain experiments as most other placebo effect studies have, it should be more useful in putting together treatments in the future.
These results provided some proof for clinical placebo being predetermined by brain biology, and shows that brain imaging may also identify a placebo-corrected prediction of response to active treatment.
Now we need to figure out why the placebo effect happens at all.