Archive for February 21st, 2010

Review of Chasing Medical Miracles

February 21, 2010

The subtitle of this 2009 book by Alex O’Meara is “The Promise and Perils of Clinical Trials.” O’Meara combines this personal experience of a clinical trial using stem cells for Type I Diabetes. He reviews the risky world of clinical trials beginning with large for-profit research centers who recruit healthy volunteers and stories of the volunteers who participate for a living or to supplement their income. Some questionable situations are noted including the recruitment of low income and alcoholic men in Indianapolis and elsewhere. He details some famous cases of unethical trials which landed in the courts including those involving genetics and conflicts of interest. Fortunately, some of these potential abuses are more carefully scrutinized. He spends two chapters on international clinical trials which have shifted much of the work to developing countries with a real focus on the issues in Uganda as case study. The fact that drug companies provide medical care in addition to clinical trials creates a dilemma for developing countries with small healthcare budgets.

One outstanding story related to a patient’s right to their own data is from a Hepatitis C trial in which the subjects were not allowed to receive information on their viral load during the study as a way of discouraging drop outs. However, this in itself seems unethical in that the patient would not know whether the treatment was effective or ineffective and whether their disease was progressing. I hope that Institutional Review Boards would not approve such a procedure for trials involving serious illness. Much of the book looks at the issues with placebo controlled studies and blinding – it raises many questions which are yet to be resolved by medical scientist and bioethicists.

I would recommend this book for anyone involved in clinical research, whether in Pharma, medicine or as a patient.

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