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Trials and tribulations in clinical studies
But it was not always so complicated. Or orthodox. If you fancy something a little less clinically imposing and a little more fun, there are options, particularly if you’re happy to work with animals.
But would you be willing to really get your hands dirty?
In the 1930s, Dr Allan Walker Blair, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology at the University of Alabama, US, noted that there was little research on the effects of a black widow spider bite, so he took the bite himself in the name of science. He survived, despite the predictable “excruciating pain” he described, but it was suspected that the myocardial infarction that killed him 10 years later was related to the bite.
Moving up the time line, and in a seasonal vein, in the 1960s Penn State University tried to establish the minimal amount of stimuli required to encourage turkeys to mate. Gradually, parts of the turkey’s body were removed, until eventually, the turkey was just a head on a stick. Conclusion: Other turkeys still tried to mate with it.
More recently, Brown University in the US proved that people desperate to urinate experience significant cognitive impairment. Maybe there’s an application there for people with urinary urgency? Anyway, the trial cost Prof Peter Snider a grand total of $1.25 to complete.
But you can’t talk research history without a mention of the grand-daddy of clinical trials, James Lind. He’s reputed to have conducted the very first clinical trial on scurvy in 1747 among 12 sailors with the condition. Lind suspected that scurvy was in fact putrefaction and could be treated with acids, so he divided the sailors into six groups of two and gave them dietary supplements: One group was given a quart of cider daily (plenty of volunteers there, no doubt); another drank six spoonfuls of vinegar each day; another had to drink half a pint of seawater daily; another had a spicy paste mix and barley water; another group was given 25 drops of sulphuric acid; and the last group — here it comes — had two oranges and a lemon each day.
And here’s a statement you won’t see in the journals — the trial was stopped prematurely after six days when they ran out of fruit. One wonders what form clinical trials will take in another few hundred years.
Smooth, mellow malarky
If you can’t trust the claims of a tobacco company, what’s the world coming to?
Lovable, cuddly tobacco giant Philip Morris issued a statement recently, claiming that it has developed a ‘less harmful’ cigarette. It’s a little like the US or Russia claiming they have manufactured a ‘less harmful’ nuclear weapon.
The iQos (cool name, no?) cigarette was launched in the UK earlier this month but has been on the market in other countries for a while. According to Morris’s CEO André Calantzopoulos, the product heats tobacco but does not burn it and he says the company is leading the way towards a tobacco-free world. As you might expect, there are a lot of people who aren’t buying it, as a concept at least, if not literally.
Deborah Arnott, CEO of the UK anti-smoking group Ash, said of the launch: “Philip Morris claims to be moving towards a post-smoking future but, like other tobacco companies, it is still actively promoting smoking around the world, using methods that would be illegal in the UK.”
Our own Averil Power, CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, also weighed-in. “Tobacco companies lied for years about the link between smoking and cancer,” she said. “Now Marlboro manufacturer Philip Morris is making fresh health claims. We would be crazy to believe them without independent proof.”
This comes as a recent UCC Medical Society conference on doctors’ wellbeing revealed stats from the RCPI National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland, showing that 10 per cent of doctors smoke.