Placebos from Imagination to Molecules: Lost in Translation

Kathryn Hall, Program in Placebo Studies, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge


Recent identification of neurological, biochemical and genetic correlates of the placebo response have allowed placebos to step out of the shadows of doubt and the imagination. With mounting threats to clinical practice and drug development, this understanding of the underpinnings of placebos comes at an important time in the history of medicine. In this talk we will examine how placebos have shaped our beliefs in modern medicine and how the placebo revolution offers novel insights into how drugs work and new ways to practice medicine. We will explore the possibility that drugs target the placebo response and what this tells us about how we might interpret their effects in clinical trials. Finally, we will discuss how by freeing placebos from the double-blind ethical bind, we can potentially use honest or open-label placebos in the clinic.