Medical Research

Does addiction last a lifetime?

Peter Grinspoon, MD

Contributing Editor

In the study of addiction and recovery, the question of whether a person who has an addiction to any substance must avoid all other potentially addictive substances has yet to be definitively answered. Alongside it, some argue that those in recovery may simply substitute one addiction for another.

Can DNA markers predict aging?

A newly available test offers to provide information about your telomeres, parts of your DNA that are considered markers of aging, but on its own this information is of little value, and you can make beneficial lifestyle changes without paying for a test.

A more precise approach to fighting cancer

Matthew Solan

Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Precision medicine is an approach to fighting certain types of cancer that considers a person’s family history, environment, and health habits, along with genetic testing, to predict which medication will provide the most effective treatment.

Thinking about joining a clinical trial? Here’s what you need to know

People enroll in clinical trials for a variety of reasons. Some hope to try a new or innovative treatment. Others hope to advance knowledge about a disease. If you’re interested in volunteering for a clinical trial, you should understand the type of study you’d be participating in and know the potential risks.

Medical news: A case for skepticism

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Stories about medical research are often presented in a manner that makes the findings seem more significant than they really are. It is important to approach such stories with a degree of skepticism, and appropriately tempered expectations.

The placebo effect: Amazing and real

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Many people believe that the placebo effect is solely a psychological phenomenon. But for some people, a placebo can have real, measurable therapeutic benefits. The power of the placebo effect is significant enough that it can actually skew study results. Additional research is needed to better understand how to leverage the placebo effect and when doing so might offer real benefits to patients.

Editorial calls for more research on link between football and brain damage


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Is brain damage an inevitable consequence of American football, an avoidable risk of it, or neither? An editorial published yesterday in the medical journal BMJ poses those provocative questions. Chad Asplund, director of sports medicine at Georgia Regents University, and Thomas Best, professor and chair of sports medicine at Ohio State University, offer an overview of the unresolved connection between playing football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of gradually worsening brain damage caused by repeated mild brain injuries or concussions. The big question is whether playing football causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy or whether some people who play football already at higher risk for developing it. The Football Players Health Study at Harvard University hopes to provide a solid answer to that and other health issues that affect professional football players.

PCSK9 inhibitors: a major advance in cholesterol-lowering drug therapy

Gregory Curfman, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Former Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Health Publishing

Every so often, a medical advance comes along that rewrites the script for treating a disease or condition. After today’s announcement of impressive results of a new type of cholesterol-lowering drug, that scenario just might happen in the next few years. The results of three clinical trials presented today at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that a class of new drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors can dramatically reduce the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream and prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other problems related to cholesterol-clogged arteries. The drawbacks are that PCSK9 inhibitors must be given by injection every 2 to 4 weeks, may cause mental confusion or trouble paying attention, and, if approved, will likely be expensive.

For joggers, less may be more

Gregory Curfman, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Former Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Health Publishing

Jogging is one of those activities that seems to embody the concept of healthy physical activity. A new study from Denmark may prompt a rethinking of the benefits of strenuous jogging. Researchers with the ongoing Copenhagen City Heart Study found that, compared to healthy but inactive non-joggers, the death rate of light joggers was 90% lower. No surprise there. But the death rate for strenuous joggers was no different than that of sedentary non-joggers. In this study, the most beneficial exercise was jogging at a slow or moderate pace two to three times a week for a total of 60 to 145 minutes. This one study certainly shouldn’t change the current recommendations for physical activity. But it helps debunk the “no pain, no gain” myth of exercise and supports the idea that any activity is better than none—but there may be an upper limit.

Bleeding risk from new blood thinner Pradaxa higher than first reported

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

The FDA’s approval in 2010 of the blood-thinner dabigatran (Pradaxa) got many doctors excited. It was at least as effective as warfarin for preventing stroke-causing blood clots, and possibly caused fewer bleeding side effects. In addition, it is easier to use. Since then, studies of Pradaxa have slightly dampened the enthusiasm for the new drug. For example, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh showed that Pradaxa cause more episodes of serious bleeding (9%) than warfarin (6%). The bleeding sites tended to differ. Bleeding in the stomach and intestines was slightly higher among Pradaxa users. Bleeding in the head was slightly higher among warfarin users. Black patients and those with chronic kidney disease were more likely to bleed from Pradaxa.