Sham surgery may put patients at risk
Researchers in the United States have sparked off debate by using a controversial form of placebo surgery during clinical trials for patients suffering from Parkinson's disease.
Investigators at the University of South Florida are using “sham surgery” to test the efficacy of implanting fetal brain cells into patients with severe Parkinson's disease. They hope that direct injection of embryonic dopaminergic neurones into the brain will help patients regain motor function in their limbs.
Researchers at the university want to show that any benefits are a result of the treatment and not a placebo effect. To show this, they have carried out placebo operations on a control group of randomised patients, to compare them with subjects receiving the fetal brain cells.
The subjects in the control group have holes drilled into the side of their head, but, unlike in subjects in the treatment group, the needle does not penetrate their brain.