Literature Monitor

The Placebo Effect May be Overrated

Seizure; 2017 Dec; Goldernholz et al.


Clinical trials that evaluate experimental treatment for patients with epilepsy often produce large placebo effects, but a recent database analysis suggests that what appears like a placebo effect may in fact result from the natural variability in patients’ response to treatment.

  • Researchers conducted clinical trial simulations using data from sources including a large patient-managed seizure tracking diary database called, a clinical trial that looked at transcranial magnetic stimulation, and a seizure diary dataset called NeuroVista, which tracks longitudinal intracranial monitoring.
  • The analysis measured 50% responder rates and median percentage change.
  • The clinical trial simulations were performed in 2 directions; it measured outcomes with time running forward and in reverse, ie, moving backwards from baseline through titration, to treatment.
  • The analysis found that temporal reversal didn’t prevent large 50% responder rates, suggesting that what appears to be a placebo effect in clinical trials is in fact normal variability in the way patients respond to active treatment.

A multi-dataset time-reversal approach to clinical trial placebo response and the relationship to natural variability in epilepsy. Seizure. 2017; 53:31-36. DOI:

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