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Vidyya, from the Sanskrit "vaidya," a practitioner who has come to understand the science of life.

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Back To Vidyya Leading Experts To Explore The Basis For And Potential Applications Of The Placebo Effect

Meeting To Take Place 19 November 2000

The January 2000 cover story in The New York Times Magazine stated: "Astonishing Medical Fact: Placebos Work! So Why Not Use Them as Medicine?" When prominent national newspapers and health consumers are asking their doctors to add sugar pills to their arsenal of medical treatments — surely…something medically significant is on the horizon.

Indeed, the potential use of placebos for medical benefit and their continued use in clinical trials are recent subjects of considerable interest and controversy among the lay public and scientists alike. The placebo effect has also been an increasing focus of attention as an important phenomenon to be understood. To explore the basis for and potential applications of the placebo effect and determine future research opportunities, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in collaboration 16 over NIH Institutes and Centers and three Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) agencies, have organized a trans-NIH/DHHS workshop.

"The Science of the Placebo: Toward an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda," will be held in the Natcher Conference Center — located on NIH campus on November 19-21, 2000. This workshop will bring together leading researchers from a wide range of disciplines to examine the biological, behavioral, social/cultural, and ethical aspects related to the placebo effect. Perspectives on the necessity for including a placebo in randomized clinical trials also will be examined. Arthur Kleinman, M.D., Professor of Social Anthropology, Harvard University, and of Medical Anthropology and Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Harry A. Guess, M.D., Ph.D., Vice-President, Epidemiology, Merck Research Laboratories, will serve as conference co-chairs. A final conference agenda, which lists all plenary session participants and breakout group chairs and panelists, can be accessed at:

To provide a scholarly assessment of the state-of-the-art, biologists, behavioral and social scientists, epidemiologists, and biostatisticians have been commissioned to write background papers. Manuscripts are being provided to workshop participants in advance of the meeting, and will be summarized in plenary sessions to be held on the first one and one-half days of the meeting.

Meeting topics include:

  • Definition and History of the Field
  • Biological Aspects
  • Behavioral Aspects
  • Social/Cultural Aspects
  • Ethical Aspects
  • Statistical and Regulatory Issues Related to Use of the Placebo in Clinical Trials

These presentations will serve as the basis for discussions in breakout sessions scheduled for the final day of the meeting. In these smaller meetings, participants will develop recommendations for a future interdisciplinary research agenda.

NOTE: The standard registration fee for this conference is waived for the press; however, space is limited so please RSVP and provide your press credentials when you register for the conference by calling Maria Smith at TASCON at 301/315-9000 or registering on-line at

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative medical (CAM) practices in the context of rigorous science; training CAM researchers and disseminating authoritative information. For additional information about NCCAM, please visit our website at

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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