Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Clinical trial names can be quite AMUSING, but they don’t include unicorns

batmanunicorn.jpgEarlier this summer, the results of the TORPEDO trial were released. And while we are very interested in whether or not “percutaneous interventions to remove thrombi in the popliteal, femoral, or iliac veins, when performed in conjunction with anticoagulant therapy is [sic] better than anticoagulant therapy alone in preventing recurrent venous thromboembolism”, what we really want to know is: why is it called the TORPEDO study?

In this case, it stands for “Thrombus Obliteration by Rapid Percutaneous Endovenous Intervention (PEVI) in Deep Venous Occlusion”, and if you browse the database of clinical trials maintained by the US government, there’s plenty of other amusing acronyms to be had.


Who wouldn’t want to tell one’s colleagues that you’re working on the BATMAN project? That’s much more glamorous than explaining to your mates you can’t join them at the pub because you are pulling another late shift at the lab to analyze data for the “Bisphosphonate and Anastrozole Trial – Bone Maintenance Algorithm Assessment” study.

Think of an animal or adjective with positive connotations, and chances are, there’s a study attached to it. The full Greco-Roman pantheon is represented (ATHENA, APOLLO, HERMES, ZEUS, and JUPITER, to name a few). There aren’t a whole lot of figures from other faiths, but there is an ADAM and EVE, as well as a DEVIL. If it’s imaginary creatures you’re looking for, there’s a DRAGON and a MANTICORE in this bestiary, but no UNICORN, surprisingly.

We have to give extra credit to those researchers who created proper acronyms (like “Angina With Extremely Serious Operative Mortality Evaluation”, or AWESOME) as opposed to those who fudged their abbreviations (we’re looking at you, VICTORY, which we would in no way ever guess stood for “elective and acute stenting of coronary arteries on Express™ [coronary stent] system”).

But really, all we’re asking for is some minimal effort. At least 25 trials lay claim to SMART, five are called HOPE, and six are called CURE. There’s even one double-dipper, SMART-CURE.

STUPID and RIDICULOUS are still up for grabs, though.

Have we missed any clinical trial names that are hilariously appropriate (or inappropriate)? Let us know in the comments!

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