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Scientists turn to Internet to identify dangerous drug side effects

In recent years, the process by which a prescription drug gains approval by the Food and Drug Administration has come under scrutiny. In most cases, to control costs and outcome, clinical drug trails are conducted on a relatively small and controlled group of individuals. How such trials are conducted, often results in many negative side effects going unnoticed until a prescription drug is released into the U.S. market.

Today, when an individual feels ill or is experiencing an odd side effect, they are likely to use the Internet to conduct research prior to calling or visiting a doctor. Scientists and researchers are hoping they can gain more insight into a drug’s potential side effects through the analysis and compilation of users’ Internet searches.

During 2010, several scientists from esteemed businesses and universities assessed Internet searches performed by 6 million study participants. Looking at the types of searches these individuals made helped scientists uncover a previously unreported and potentially dangerous side effect experienced by individuals taking a certain antidepressant and statin drug.

The goal of the automated system is to detect potential side effects prior to unnecessary injuries and deaths occurring. While there is certainly a great need for additional oversight of prescription drugs and their potentially harmful side effects, the system’s creators have yet to determine exactly how they would go about mining the data.

Each year, thousands of individuals die as a result of taking dangerous prescription drugs. In many cases, these deaths could have been prevented had drug companies engaged in more detailed clinical trials or responded more urgently to initial reports of injuries and side effects.

Source: Chemistry World, “Googling for new drug side effects,” Anthony King, March 12, 2013

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