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Homeopathy – science fact or science fiction? (at Cambridge Science Festival)

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Professor Jayne Lawrence will describe the history of homeopathy and the controversy that has grown since it began in the 1790’s. She will explore the scientific and medical evidence proposed by modern homeopaths to support homeopathy, and explore whether homeopathic practice has anything to offer modern medicine.

Many homeopaths trace the origins of homeopathy to around 400 BC when Hippocrates attempted to treat mania by administering a small dose of the mandrake root which, in large doses, was known to cause mania. Yet, it was only in the late 1790s that the German, Samuel Hahnemann, proposed the idea of treating an illness with low doses of a material that – in a healthy individual – would produce symptoms similar to those of the disease being treated. Hahnemann coined the term homeopathy and the word first appeared in print in 1807. The practice of homeopathy subsequently proved so popular that by the time Hahnemann died in 1843, he was a millionaire! Despite its popularity, however, homeopathy was controversial even back in the early 1800s. An early clinical trial, performed in 1835, under conditions approximating a double-blind, randomized controlled study (similar to that used today) showed that as a method of treatment homeopathy was wholly ineffective. Homeopathy nevertheless continued to prove popular, and to appreciate why this was so, one must remember that in the 18th Century, Western medicine made great use of toe curling practices such as bloodletting and purging, as well as administering complex mixtures, such as Venice treacle – a concoction of 64 substances including opium, myrrh, and viper flesh. Such treatments frequently worsened a patient’s symptoms, sometimes proving fatal, so it is easy to see why homeopathy and its use of ultralow doses of the treatment material became popular. But why is the practice still popular today? The body of scientific knowledge which we now possess, taken together with the findings from more modern clinical trials performed to assess the efficacy of homeopathic materials only serve to support the conclusion reached in the first clinical trial, that homeopathy is ineffective, with no effect beyond that of a placebo (i.e., no effect beyond that of a preparation containing no active drug). This talk will explore the scientific and medical evidence proposed by modern homeopaths to support homeopathy, and explore whether homeopathic practice has anything to offer modern medicine.

About the speaker, Professor M Jayne Lawrence: Job Title: Chief Scientist, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and Professor of Biophysical Pharmaceutics, King’s College London

Area of Expertise: Pharmaceutical science, particularly drug and gene delivery

Jayne is a pharmacist who has spent the majority of her career working in academic pharmacy at King’s College London, although she has also spent time working in community, hospital and industrial pharmacy. She currently holds a joint position as Professor and Head of the Pharmaceutical Biophysics Group at King’s College London and the Chief Scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Jayne sits on a number of national and international committees representing pharmacy science as well as governmental research grant awarding bodies. She regularly presents her research on drug and gene delivery at national and international conferences.

Media Work: Jayne has commented on a number of pharmaceutical science issues in the press and through national radio and TV, including BBC Breakfast, BBC News 24 and BBC radio.

http://www.rsc.org; http://www.soci.org

This talk is part of the SCI Cambridge Science Talks series.

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