How STRADIVARIUS Will Play on Doctors' Minds

Medical trials with catchy acronyms get excess attention. One drug maker may not benefit.

By + More
A Christies auction house employee holds up a 1729 Stradivari violin.

Clever acronyms abound in the world of medical science. Some trials bear names like AVIATOR, SHOCK, and AWESOME and not just because researchers like showing off their verbal virtuosity. A couple of years ago, a study—called ART in Medicine, naturally—showed that acronym-named studies get cited more frequently than studies of equal quality that don't have catchy handles. An upshot of that favoritism is that doctors may overlook some important medical findings while giving others more than their fair share of attention. That bias, in turn, could harm the practice of medicine by partially divorcing it from the evidence.

Against that backdrop, it's with mixed emotions that I call your attention to today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and his colleagues report the results of the, uh, STRADIVARIUS trial. That whopper stands for the "Strategy to Reduce Atherosclerosis Development Involving Administration of Rimonabant—the Intravascular Ultrasound Study." Phew. I need to catch my breath.

STRADIVARIUS is just one of several high-profile trials that researchers reported at the American College of Cardiology conference, which ended yesterday in Chicago. ACCOMPLISH, ENHANCE, and REVERSE are among the others; most have acronyms that at least vaguely hint at their purpose. REVERSE, for example, studied heart failure patients to see if a certain therapy could knock down that group's elevated risk of premature death. STRADIVARIUS, by contrast, seems almost to allude to the mentally enthralling effect of naming such a trial.

In any case, the playful acronym might strike the wrong chord for Sanofi-Aventis, the drug manufacturer behind the study. Nissen's team tested whether the company's experimental drug rimonabant (aka Acomplia) can slow the progression of coronary artery disease, and the results have been described as "disappointing." So, it may not work in Sanofi's favor that the clever acronym will help researchers and doctors remember the trial's outcome.

Come across any outlandishly named medical or scientific projects? If I get any submissions that challenge STRADIVARIUS for the title of most baroque, Thinking Harder will hold a vote. In the meantime, watch this space for more on acronym-named medical trials, specifically the recently published MIST trial, about migraines, which aptly ended in something of a mistrial.