Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | LIBC Sylvius Lecture

Placebos, words and drugs: sharing common mechanisms of action

Tuesday 29 October 2019
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden
Klein Auditorium
Prof. dr. Fabrizio Benedetti

Abstract: Although placebos have long been considered a nuisance in clinical research, today they represent an excellent model to understand how words and therapeutic rituals may affect the patient’s brain. Placebo effects, and their evil twins, nocebo effects, are today an active and productive field of research and, because of the involvement of many mechanisms, the study of the placebo effect can actually be viewed as a melting pot of concepts and ideas for neuroscience.  Important clinical implications emerge from these recent advances in placebo research.

First, as the placebo effect is basically a psychosocial context effect, these data indicate that different social stimuli, such as words and therapeutic rituals, may change the chemistry and circuitry of the patient’s brain. Second, the mechanisms that are activated by placebos are the same as those activated by drugs, which suggests a cognitive/affective interference with drug action. Third, today we can talk of a true pharmacology and toxicology of words, whereby the unique and special interaction between the therapist and his/her patient can activate the same mechanisms that are the target of drugs.

Biosketch: Fabrizio Benedetti, MD is Professor of Neurophysiology and Human Physiology at the University of Turin Medical School, Turin, Italy, and Director of Medicine & Physiology of Hypoxia at the Plateau Rosà Laboratories, Plateau Rosà, Switzerland. He has been nominated member of The Academy of Europe and of the European Dana Alliance for the Brain. He is now a member of the Council of Scientists of the Human Frontiers Science Program Organization. He is author of the book Placebo Effects (Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2014), which received the Medical Book Award of the British Medical Association, and The Patient’s Brain (Oxford University Press 2010). He received the Seymour Solomon Award of the American Headache Society in 2012, the Herlitzka Prize for Physiology in 2012, the William S Kroger Award of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis in 2015, the EFIC-IBSA Award in 2015, the ARNO Award from the Neurological Research Association in 2018.

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