Holdich Group debates the ethics of human drug trials and psychosomatic illness

We have had a fantastic few weeks at the Holdich Society and have enjoyed some really fascinating presentations from some of our year 12 members. On Tuesday 12th February, keen biologists Hannah Jones and Alex Ibbetson spoke to the group about the ethics surrounding human drug trials. The girls had clearly researched their material thoroughly and presented us with a balanced view of the debate, highlighting the benefits of drug testing on humans as well as the inherent dangers, using specific case studies to illustrate their findings. To demonstrate the potential advantages of testing, the girls looked at recent drug trials in the treatment of psoriatic arthritis and found that effective medication had been developed and tested on human subjects; many sufferers had experienced a reduction in symptoms and thus a better quality of life as a result. The girls then presented us with the darker and more morally complex side of the issue when they spoke about the infamous 2006 trial which left eight healthy young men fighting for their lives when they reacted badly to TGN1412 (a drug doctors hoped would revolutionise cancer treatment). A lively and engaging debate followed in which a wide range of opinion was contested and defended. I would like to extend my congratulations to both Hannah and Alex for a truly thought-provoking session.

This week saw Alex Barker speak to the Society on the topic of psychological perception and disease. Alex, who one day hopes to build a career in the field of psychology, delivered a superb presentation in which she outlined how psychological trauma can sometimes manifest as physiological symptoms. Inspired by reading the work of consultant clinical neurophysiologist Suzanne O’Sullivan, Alex gave us a real insight into the science of psychosomatic illness and questioned why it is still so misunderstood. Why, she questioned, can we accept that our hearts can flutter with excitement and our cheeks can flush when embarrassed, but we still find it difficult to accept that our mind can cause us to experience physical pain? It is now reckoned that as many as a third of people visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained; in most, an emotional root is suspected which is often the last thing a patient wants to hear and a doctor to say. It seems that this is a field of study that looks set to grow considerably over the coming years and will be one in which perhaps Alex, with her clear passion for the issue, will be at the forefront of. Well done, Alex!