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Scientists May Have Found Which Part Of The Brain Reacts To A Placebo

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Scientists may have found the area of the brain that lights up when the placebo effect happens. The finding could help improve treatment for over a hundred million Americans who experience chronic pain, the study further suggests.

The placebo effect happens when a placebo, or a form of fake therapy like a sugar pill, leads to a lower level of pain or other health developments, generally in a group of patients undergoing a clinical trial. Placebos are used as a control in testing new drugs, or are prescribed more for psychological benefits rather than physical ones.

Using a new type of MRI, researchers from the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago were able to pinpoint a specific region in the brain that reacts to a placebo.

Vania Apkarian, a professor of physiology and co-author on the study, says,

The new technology will allow physicians to see what part of the brain is activated during an individual’s pain and choose the specific drug to target this spot.

He adds, “It also will provide more evidence-based measurements. Physicians will be able to measure how the patient’s pain region is affected by the drug.”

The researchers also indicate that their results have the potential to create personalized pain therapies based on how a patient’s brain responds to a medicine or a placebo. Knowing how the brain lights up could also lead to more accurate clinical trials by identifying patients who have a high reaction to placebo, and removing them from the trials, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

Marwan Baliki, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and co-author on the study, says, “Given the enormous societal toll of chronic pain, being able to predict placebo responders in a chronic pain population could both help the design of personalized medicine and enhance the success of clinical trials.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.



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