With recent studies indicating that over 42 percent of the country”s population uses complementary and alternative medicine, interest has surged at a national level to study and validate claims of the efficacy of alternative medical practices.
Due to the new wave of interest, the National Institute of Health recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to Sara Warber, a lecturer in the department of family medicine and co-director of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Center with Steve Bolling. The grant is to integrate complementary alternative medicine techniques into the Medical School.
Working with CAM researchers, the Medical School plans to attempt melding traditional medical teaching with forms of medicinal therapy that are more exotic and less respected by most Western physicians.
“The goal is to better improve the doctor-patient relationship as well as make them more sympathetic to patients needs,” said Elena Gillespie, cardiac surgery researcher and co-investigator of Reiki technique at the CAMRC.
In 1998, Bolling received a five year, $6.7 million grant from the NIH to fund research into CAM treatment for cardiovascular disease. The University is the only medical school in the country to hold both a CAM research grant and a CAM curriculum grant from the NIH.
CAM covers healing methods that range from herbal supplements to acupuncture. Researchers said they are not pushing certain types of therapy, but rather attempting to inform future doctors of alternative treatments patients may use without their physician”s knowledge.
“Often the role of the physician is not to say whether it is good or not, but to know what type of things our patients are asking about and whether they are potentially harmful,” said Thomas Schwenk, chair of the department of family medicine.
Much of the CAMRC investigation is concerned with forms of energy healing therapy, including Reiki and Qigong. Both techniques base themselves on the belief that everything is made up of an all encompassing energy. This energy can be tapped into to hasten recovery.
According to Elena Gillespie a Reiki master and investigator with CAMRC, everyone has an energy field flowing through the body. When a person is ill the energy paths are blocked. Reiki masters become a conduit for energy into the patient. Qigong holds similar beliefs about the body and has been practiced regularly for thousands of years. The ideas of universal energy in which all matter takes part are concurrent with modern notions of quantum physics.
“The underlying idea seems to be our thoughts seem to direct our reality,” Gillespie said.
University researchers are currently testing these therapies to determine if there is a measurable amount of benefit for patients. Amy Ai, a research fellow for the surgical department in the University Hospitals, was the major designer and principal investigator for Qigong research here at the University up until three years ago.
“This is the largest trial of its kind funded by the NIH,” Ai said.
Ai designed the study to accurately measure the affects of energy therapy that would allow for vast differences in subjects of varying backgrounds, along with Bolling.
“We want to discredit those false healers and provide hard evidence, scientifically,” she said.
To help expand research opportunities and better serve patients, the University is in the process of developing a clinic devoted to CAM therapy and research in hopes of bringing CAM practitioners together in one place, Bolling said.
“We can utilize patients and the expertise of people in the surrounding area as a research validation,” he added.
Marge Alpern, who along with her husband Bob made a generous donation which the University matched toward the founding of the clinic, expressed deep-rooted enthusiasm for the University project. At 80 years old, she still continues to practice meditation regularly and is excited at the thought of CAM therapy being given a chance for medical confirmation.
“The body has incredible healing powers if given encouragement in the right direction,” Alpern said.