PiPS Director Ted Kaptchuk on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)

from MPR: 

From performing acupuncture in a tiny Massachusetts clinic to directing the Program in Placebo Studies and Theraputic Encounters at Harvard, Ted Kaptchuk has worked to understand the placebo effect and its place in medicine. He joins us today to discuss his work and findings. Listen here.

PiPS Director Ted Kaptchuk on WBUR, Boston’s NPR Station

Demystifying The Power Of ‘The Placebo Effect’

from Radio Boston

Right here in Boston, in the heart of the city’s respected and centuries-old medical establishment, there’s a research center that is challenging long held views about how we treat illness, how we measure the effectiveness of treatment, and how the power of the mind — rather than drugs — can actually cure illness. We’re talking about new and controversial research into the so-called placebo effect. There’s growing evidence that placebos can actually help cure people, or at least make them feel better. If true, this could spark a major revolution in medicine, because traditionally placebos have had a bad name. After all, they’re usually a fake pill, nothing more than a bit of sugar, for example, designed to deceive people in clinical drug trials. But now there’s evidence that in some cases placebos — even when people knowingly take them — work just as well as real drugs and actually make people better. This has potentially enormous implications in the way we think about medicine, and how we understand the power of suggestion and belief in healing. The latest research on this comes from Harvard University and its newly created Program in Placebo Studies and The Therapeutic Encounter based at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. You could call this whole idea, The Power Of Nothing, which is the title of Michael Specter’s article in this week’s New Yorker about new research into the placebo effect. Guests: Ted Kaptchuk, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of Harvard’s Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Listen here.


Kaptchuk, PiPS Featured in New Yorker

Michael Specter profiles PiPS Director Ted Kaptchuk and his “quest to understand the placebo effect” in this excellent piece in this week’s New Yorker. Abstract below.


ANNALS OF SCIENCE about the placebo effect.

For years, Ted Kaptchuk performed acupuncture at a tiny clinic in Cambridge, a few miles from his current office, at the Harvard Medical School. He opened for business in 1976, having just returned from Asia, where he had spent four years honing his craft. Not long after he arrived in Boston, he treated an Armenian woman for chronic bronchitis. A few weeks later, the woman returned with her husband and told Kaptchuk that he had “cured” her. “It had to be some kind of placebo,” Kaptchuk stated. “I’ve always believed there is an important component of medicine that involves suggestion, ritual, and belief.” This year, Harvard created an institute dedicated wholly to the study of placebos, the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter. It is based at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Kaptchuk was named its director. He has already recruited leading researchers from around the world. The program was formed to explore an idea that even twenty years ago would have seemed preposterous: that placebos—given deliberately—might be deployed in clinical practice. As medicine. Kaptchuk has no shortage of critics. They acknowledge the power of the mind to influence health but question the vigor of studies suggesting that placebos could possibly prove as valuable as drugs. The research has been propelled in large measure by the emerging discipline of neuroimaging. In several recent studies, placebos have performed as well as drugs that Americans spend millions of dollars on every year. Kaptchuk acknowledges that placebos are not magic potions. Describes the history of placebo-controlled trials. Mentions Lieutenant Colonel Henry Beecher. A meaningful picture of the placebo response began to emerge only in the nineteen-seventies, with the discovery of endorphins. Mentions scientists Jon Levine, Newton Gordon, and Howard Fields. There will be no prescriptions for any placebo, unless clinical trials have demonstrated its effectiveness to the satisfaction of the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). Mentions Robert Temple and Wayne Jonas. In 2001, Asbjøm Hróbjartsson, of Copenhagen’s Nordic Cochrane Center, along with his colleague Peter Gøtzsche, published a systematic review of a hundred and fourteen clinical trials that compared patients who received placebos with subjects who were told that they would receive no medicine at all. The Danish researchers repeated the study in 2004, and again last year, incorporating new data each time. “We found little evidence in general that placebos had powerful clinical effects,” Hróbjartsson wrote. Hróbjartsson and Kaptchuk were united on at least one front: they agree that the medical system needs to change. Kaptchuk wants to broaden the definition of healing, which is exactly what enrages so many scientists. It boils down to one question, Kaptchuk asserts: “Do you think this entire field is based on a foundation of magical thinking, or do you not?”

Read more here.