Blog | Monday, June 23, 2008

Medical news of the obvious

This week's edition focuses on attempts by medicine to delve into basic human psychology.

Our first exhibit comes from the Endo '08 meeting. A group of pituitary researchers recruited recreational athletes for a test of human growth hormone. Some were given the hormones, some were given placebos, then they were asked to guess whether or not they were taking the real thing. The results: study participants who (wrongly) believed that they were taking hormones improved their athletic performance over the course of the study. Experts concluded that this finding could explain why athletes continue to take HGH even though there's no scientific evidence that it works. Uh, yeah. Or maybe the common assumption that HGH works leads people to attribute their performance improvement to it?

Then, a study in Archives of IM explored why HIV-positive patients participated in a phase III drug trial and found that "individuals participating in a clinical trial hope to benefit personally from the research but also understand they are contributing to society." So, to sum up, people actually have logical reasons--expected benefit either for themselves or others--that motivate them to take banned hormones or experimental drugs. Who knew?