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Drilling for Answers (Sep-08)

Find out about some experimental treatments for Parkinson's Disease. And then decide how you'd respond if you had a chance to participate in this research. In this interactive decision, we’re going to ask you about some experimental treatments for Parkinson’s Disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Up to 1 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a brain disease that gradually worsens over many years and causes tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, and balance problems. Some people with Parkinson’s Disease also experience changes in memory, concentration, and mood.

The average age at onset of symptoms is 65, but 5% to 10% have onset before the age of 45. The symptoms are caused by the death of cells in the brain that make a chemical called dopamine. Medications that are available to treat Parkinson’s Disease provide more dopamine to the brain or mimic the action of dopamine in the brain. In early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, symptoms generally respond well to medications. Over time, the medications become less effective and may cause more side effects.

What treatments are researchers developing?

One experimental procedure to treat moderate to advanced Parkinson’s Disease is gene transfer, which involves neurosurgery to insert a gene into the brain, to lower the side effects of medications and to increase the effectiveness of medications. Note that no stem cells or fetal cells are used. The patient is sedated but remains awake. The scalp is numbed by injections of local anesthetics (like Novocaine), so the patient should not feel discomfort. The surgeon drills two small holes into the skull and injects a liquid containing the gene on each side of the brain into areas known to be affected in Parkinson’s Disease.

How would gene transfer surgery be tested?

To see if the gene transfer surgery is truly effective, investigators need to compare a group that receives the gene transfer surgery with a group that does not. People would be randomly assigned (e.g., by flipping a coin) to one of the two groups. This kind of study could be done in two ways.

  • An open study could be done, where everyone knows who has and who has not received the gene transfer. One half of the patients would receive their usual medications only. The other half would receive their usual medications plus the gene transfer surgery.

  • A blinded study could be done, where neither the patient nor the evaluating researcher knows who has and who has not received the gene transfer. One half of the patients would receive their usual medications plus gene transfer surgery. The other half of the patients would receive their usual medications plus “sham surgery.” Patients receiving sham surgery have the two small holes drilled into the skull. But the protective coverings in the brain are not disturbed, and there is no insertion of any material into the brain.

    In a blinded study, only the surgeon would know who has received the gene transfer surgery and who has received sham surgery. If the gene transfer surgery is found to be both safe and effective, those in the sham surgery group would have the option of receiving the gene transfer at a later date without cost, using the holes drilled during the sham surgery.

What are the risks of these studies?

For surgery patients in both an open study and a blinded study, the surgery poses potential risks. There is a 1% to 4% risk of bleeding into the brain (usually minor, but there is a less than 1% chance that it could result in death or substantial disability). There is also a 1% to 5% risk of infection developing in the skin or brain, which would be treated with antibiotics. Overall, the risk of bleeding and infection is smaller for sham surgery than for actual gene transfer surgery.

Those subjects receiving the gene transfer surgery would face additional risks, including the possibility of brain tumors, inflammation of the brain, and a worsening of the Parkinson’s Disease. Patients in pilot studies have been followed for only one year, so longer-term effects are not known.

What are the pros and cons of the two kinds of studies?

When deciding whether or not to adopt a new procedure, it’s important to get accurate, unbiased evidence. If we adopt a new procedure that is unsafe or ineffective, people will end up receiving unnecessary surgeries. If we fail to adopt an effective procedure, we miss the opportunity to offer people a treatment that could benefit them.

Most, but not all, researchers in the field believe that the blinded study, using sham surgery, would provide better quality data than the open study. These researchers worry that if people know which procedure they receive, the results of the study may be difficult to interpret because expectations of both the patient and the evaluating researcher can unintentionally bias the results.

However, some people, including some researchers, worry that a study using sham surgery may not be worth the risks and burdens. The patients with Parkinson’s Disease who get the sham surgery undergo a neurosurgical procedure that provides no benefit to them, while being exposed to the risks and burdens of the procedure. There is also the worry that people with moderate to advanced Parkinson’s Disease are vulnerable to exploitation because having a serious, incurable illness may put them in a desperate situation.

Now, you decide!

Imagine that you have moderate to advanced Parkinson’s Disease. You can do most things independently, but involuntary movements interfere with your routine activities. Daily chores take twice as long compared to people without Parkinson’s Disease. For some parts of the day, your movement is extremely slow and you need help with daily activities.

You are asked to participate in either an open study or a blinded (sham surgery) study. Which study would you choose to participate in?
  • Blinded study (sham surgery)
  • Open study
  • Would not participate

Researchers have found that only about 35% of the general population would choose, as you did, to participate in the blinded study. As reported in a 2008 article in the journal Movement Disorders, about 55% of the general population would choose the open study, and the remaining 10% said they would not participate.

When these same questions were posed to people who actually have Parkinson’s Disease, the response was quite different: 24.5% picked the blinded study, 41.5% picked the open study, and 34% said they would not participate. The researchers observe that patients with chronic illness adapt to their disabilities; the people with Parkinson’s Disease might have felt that they had less to gain or more to lose from the benefits and risks associated with a trial involving surgery. Alternatively, people without Parkinson’s Disease may have over-estimated the impact that disability might have on them or underestimated their ability to function.

In this study, people were also asked to imagine that they were members of an ethics review committee deciding whether to allow certain studies. About 81% of respondents said that they would definitely or probably allow the open study for gene transfer. 55% said that they would definitely or probably allow the blinded (sham surgery) study. These results were the same for both the general population and people with Parkinson’s Disease. In other words, a very large majority of both Parkinson’s patients and non-Parkinson’s patients endorsed the open study as ethically acceptable. A majority endorsed sham surgery as an ethically acceptable control condition.

In analyzing these results and reading the written remarks added by the respondents, the researchers comment, “Education seems to play a strong role in people’s willingness to take a more societal perspective and balance the burdens to participants with the overall scientific and societal benefit. . . Those opposed to sham surgery appeared to have an intrinsic objection to blinding, and to focus on the invasive nature of the sham surgery per se . . .Given the complexity of the topic, it may be that laypersons, especially those with less education, may need more opportunity to learn and deliberate on the issues.”

Interestingly, scientists researching Parkinson’s Disease were presented with these same questions in a related study (Kim SY, Frank S, Holloway R, Zimmerman C, Wilson R, Kieburtz K. Science and ethics of sham surgery: A survey of Parkinson disease clinical researchers. Arch Neurol 2005;62:1357-1360.) Only 50% of these clinical researchers would allow open studies, and 94% would support controlled studies using sham surgery.

In conclusion, “Future research needs to determine whether eliciting more considered judgments of laypersons would reveal different levels of support for sham surgery.”

For a complete discussion of this research, see Frank S, Wilson R, Holloway R, Zimmerman C, Peterson A, Kieburtz K, Kim SY. Ethics of sham surgery: Perspective of patients. Movement Disorders 2008;23(1):63-68. The senior author, Scott Y. Kim, MD, PhD, is a faculty member at the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences at the University of Michigan.

Read the article:

Ethics of sham surgery: Perspective of patients.
Frank S, Wilson R, Holloway RG, Zimmerman C, Peterson DR, Kieburtz K, Kim SY. Movement Disorders 2008;23:63-8.

Bioethics Grand Rounds: Musical Event "When Death Comes Callin"

Wed, October 26, 2016, 12:00pm
Location: 
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

When Death Comes Callin': Songs and Reflections About Death

Charlotte DeVries, Jeanne Mackey, Merilynne Rush, and friends offer a program of songs and brief readings reflecting various perspectives on death - humorous, sad, thoughtful, and quirky.

Lunch is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Funded by the NIH

The overarching goal of our research is to improve opioid analgesic safety and efficacy by optimizing opioid risk recognition, informed analgesic decision-making, and drug storage/disposal behaviors among parents of youth who are prescribed these agents for home use. With this proposal, we aim to demonstrate that our Scenario-Tailored Opioid Messaging Program (STOMP?) will: 1) Improve parents' opioid risk understanding and their analgesic decision-making; 2) Enhance parents' analgesic self-efficacy, analgesic use, storage behaviors and their children's pain outcomes, and 3) To demonstrate that the STOMP? plus provision of a method to get rid of left-over medications will effectively nudge parents to safely dispose of left-over opioid analgesics. For more info: http://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R01-DA044245-01A1

PI: Terri Lewis-Voepel

CBSSM Co-Is: Brian Zikmund-Fisher & Alan Tait

Peter A. Ubel has been selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a recipient of a prestigious Investigator Award in Health Policy Research for 2008. Dr. Ubel, who was director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, plans to examine how beliefs about quality of life affect the choices made when patients seek treatment, when payers determine coverage policies, and when policy-makers weigh programmatic or financial options. His project, Emotional Adaptation and the Goals of Health Care Policy, will introduce insights from well-being research, which studies how physical illness and emotional well-being are intertwined, to debates about cost-effectiveness of medical treatments, coverage decisions by payers, and discussions about health care priorities.

Mon, April 16, 2012

When women at high risk of breast cancer viewed a customized web-based decision guide about prevention options, they were more likely to make a choice about prevention and to feel comfortable with their choice.  CBSSM co-director and study senior author Angela Fagerlin is quoted in the press release.  Click here to view a press release about the study, whose authors included current CBSSM faculty member Brian Zikmund-Fisher and CBSSM alumni Peter Ubel and Dylan Smith.

Mon, June 23, 2014

Brian Zikmund-Fisher was interviewed by Reuters Health for the article "Shared decision making still lacking for cancer screening." He discusses his research and trade-offs in cancer screenings. "What this study does is it shows that despite all of the initiatives and the discussion of shared decision making that has been going on, we don't seem to be moving the needle very much," he states. 

His interview also received press in the Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News.

Dr. Andrew Barnosky stepped down from his role as Adult Ethics Committee chair, which is a position he has served for the last 16 years. CBSSM Faculty member Dr. Andrew G. Shuman will be the new committee chair. Dr. Barnosky will continue as a member of the faculty and a member of the Committee. The UMHS press release can be found here.

Megan Knaus, MPH

Research Associate

Megan joined CBSSM in 2014 and has worked on multiple grant funded research projects related to health communication, patient-provider decision making, and health interventions driven by behavioral economics. She currently works with Dr. Brian Zikmund-Fisher on a National Science Foundation grant testing infectious disease communication strategies.

Last Name: 
Knaus

PIHCD: Sarah Alvarez

Thu, November 05, 2015, 2:00pm
Location: 
B004E NCRC Building 16

Sarah Alvarez, a fellow at Stanford and formerly of Michigan Radio, will  present her work on creating a news product that can meet the information needs of low-income news consumers. Specifically her focus is on how to use data to discover which issues or systems information gaps exist for low-income news consumers and once the gaps are identified how the information should be presented to help people understand the information and use it to make decisions.

If you plan to attend this meeting please e-mail Nicole Exe at nexe@umich.edu by Monday November 2. If you decide to attend after that date you are still welcome and do not need to e-mail.

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