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Press Release - 16 April 2007

Science Café discussion: drugs and shocks – do they work?

Do anti-depressants and electroconvulsive therapy successfully treat depression? George Lodge, who has 24 years experience as a Consultant Psychiatrist, will lead a discussion on the treatments and how medical scientists assess their effectiveness (7.30pm, Tuesday 17 April. Please note this is a change of date).

Dr Lodge will summarise the evidence for the efficacy of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in the treatment of depression and outline some of the problems in assessing the success of a treatment.

Dr Lodge said: “Clinical trials are fundamental to modern medicine. They aim to provide real evidence that treatments work and that new treatments are at least as good as the existing ones, and as least as safe.

“We have to be aware of confounding influences which can make treatments appear to work. These include the placebo effect - when a patient’s health improves despite being given a dummy treatment; unconscious bias from the patient or the doctor because they want the trial to succeed; spontaneous remission and chance.

“While there is no way to attain absolutely certain results from a therapeutic trial, modern clinical trial designs aim to improve our levels of certainty. The gold standard clinical trial is the double blind placebo controlled clinical trial where neither the doctors nor the patients know who is taking the test or the dummy treatment. Typically such trials in the treatment of depression will require around 250 patients to produce a statistically significant result. They and are complex and expensive to run and even these trials have their drawbacks.

“Testing the efficacy of the treatment for depression has its own additional challenges – there are no exact laboratory tests for diagnosis or improvement so we have to rely on clinical assessments which need to be standardised and need to be reliable. If a patient could be rated very differently by different doctors, then the results of the trial would be meaningless. It is also important to define clearly the group of patients being targeted for treatment.

“Psychiatric trials, like all clinical trials, can never give us certainty; they can only increase our confidence that we are right.”

The Science Café is an ongoing series of monthly events where some of the country’s leading scientists will talk informally about their research over a pint.

The event will be held in The Raven pub in Queen Street in the centre of town. No tickets or reservations are required - just turn up at 7.30pm for an 8.00pm start.

Organisers will ask for a small voluntary donation to cover travel costs for the speakers.

Other Bath Science Café events already planned include:

Monday 14th May - The precautionary principle: stop the world, we want to get off!

Monday 11th June - Fusion: powering the future

To register for e-mail alerts on forthcoming Science Café events, contact Melissa Spielman on bssms@bath.ac.uk


The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/

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