Nothing magic about the placebo effect

Published 2013-06-11 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:29

[NEWS 2013-06-11] If we learned more about the workings of the placebo effect, we could make great improvements to healthcare. This was the overall message of a seminar held recently in honour of philanthropist Bernard Osher.

Bernard Osher.
Bernard Osher. Photo: Gunnar Ask

Eight years ago, the American business magnate donated SEK 43 million to Karolinska Institutet, which invested the money in a new Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine. Here, methods that are currently not part of mainstream medicine are given rigorous scientific testing with the aim of putting them to use alongside conventional healthcare.

"We deal with issues that occupy a space between human behaviour and human biology, says Professor Martin Ingvar, director of the Osher Centre. Like any other undeveloped research field, itll take time to build it up, and the generous donation has given us a stable foundation on which to do this."

Bernard Osher recently turned 85, and in honour of his birthday, Karolinska Institutet arranged a half-day seminar on the importance of the patient-doctor relationship.

Prof. Ingvar declared that the placebo effect is nothing "magical" but a result of normal brain function. The effect centres upon the individuals expectations of what will happen, and influencing these expectations, e.g. by instilling a sense of personal trust in the patient, is therefore the hardware for recovery - hardware that, according to Prof. Ingvar, is particularly effective in the treatment of pain, depression and lifestyle diseases.

"We're putting huge resources into treating these conditions, which are, in spite of this, becoming increasingly common. We have to change our approach, and thats exactly what we're looking into at the Osher Centre."