Placebo effect: Luana Colloca is a neuroscientist looking to change the way we treat pain

KLAWE RZECZY; head: Matthew Paul D'Agostino

Despite a phenomenon that has been known for hundreds of years, there is still much to learn about the placebo effect, when a person's health improves after taking a fake treatment like a sugar pill. The expectation of a positive outcome is thought to be behind all this, and that a negative expectation is involved in its undesirable opposite, the nocebo effect, which occurs when symptoms worsen. But questions remain about how exactly the mind affects the body in this way and why some people experience this effect more strongly than others.

Luana Colloca is one of those tackling these issues. A neuroscientist and director of the Placebo Beyond Opinions Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore, Colloca and colleagues have shown how specific genetic variants can shape the extent of a person's placebo response. They are now studying how best to harness these effects to help ease pain, which could decrease the use of prescription opioid medications and the risk of addiction to them. They are also exploring the use of virtual reality, which results published last year show can successfully reduce perceived pain and anxiety levels.

Colloca has collected all the latest findings on the placebo and nocebo effects in a book she co-edited called Placebo effects through the lens of translational research. She spoke to New scientist about his work on pain relief, whether the placebo effect can help treat mental health issues, and its impact on how we…

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