Friday, September 04, 2009

Placebo and Sham treatment: are they really inactive?

According the ICH guidance E10 (CHOICE OF CONTROL GROUP AND RELATED ISSUES IN CLINICAL TRIALS), "A placebo is a "dummy" treatment that appears as identical as possible to the test treatment with respect to physical characteristics such as color, weight, taste and smell, but that does not contain the test drug."

We typically use the term Placebo, but sometime, the term 'sham treatment' is used. The word 'sham' means something that is a fake or an imitation that purports to be genuine.

In practice, a placebo is often defined as an inactive substance made to appear like a medication or a sham procedure or device imitating a known treatment. Sometimes, the 'inactive' substance used in the clinical trial may not be totally 'inactive'. One example is albumin. On the one hand, the albumin may be treated as inactive substance for Placebo; on the other hand, there are studies to study the effect of albumin in certain diseases. In a study about "the Effectiveness of Intravenous Immune Globulin (10%) for the Treatment of Multifocal Motor Neuropathy", 0.25% human albumin solution was used as Placebo. But there are also plenty of clinical trials to study the efficacy of albumin in sepsis, renal impairment, acute stroke,...

In a lot of publications, the author did not disclose what the placebo is. You can use the same term 'placebo', but the 'placebo' could be sugar pill, saline, albumin,...

Even more...

In article web article by BJ Appelgren titled "The Placebo as Medicine Viewed as Sham, Placebo Itself May Be the Most Significant", the following examples are cited as other type of placebos.
  • Having an interaction with a health care provider
  • The presence of something symbolic in the encounter such as contact with a person wearing a “white coat,” perceived as a provider of healing
The significance of symbols cannot be measured objectively and, for that reason, is not valued. Researchers also have an additional puzzle when non-treatment causes positive results. Too often, when the effect of symbolism is recognized by conventional medicine, it is removed from a context of positive meaning and denigrated as “being all in the mind,” as if that makes it illusory.

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