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April 18, 2006 • Volume 3 / Number 16 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Community UpdateCommunity Update

Conference Promotes Collaborations in Traditional Chinese Medicine Research

Interest in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has exploded in the United States. NCI defines CAM as any medical system, practice, or product not thought of as "standard care," including acupuncture, herbal preparations, dietary supplements, and mind-body interventions such as meditation. In 1998, NCI established the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) to lead NCI's research efforts in this area and evaluate CAM therapies for incorporation into the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, and to palliate cancer-related symptoms and side effects of conventional treatment.

From its inception, OCCAM has coordinated NCI's domestic and international collaborations in the CAM field. The office recently sponsored a conference, "Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cancer Research: Fostering Collaborations; Advancing the Science," which was held on the NIH campus April 10-12. The event brought together physicians and researchers from China, Taiwan, the United States, Canada, and Europe to present research on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for cancer prevention, treatment, and palliation, and to explore opportunities for future joint research projects.

An introductory speech by Dr. Mark Clanton, NCI deputy director and deputy director for Cancer Care Delivery Systems, stressed the collaborative aspect of the conference. "The second part of the conference title is the most important for me," said Dr. Clanton, "creating relationships, partnerships, and collaborations in order to advance the science. Scientists at NCI are very eager to understand more about traditional Chinese medicine."

On the first day of the conference, speakers presented information on a wide range of TCM topics, such as herbal medicine for cancer prevention in high-risk populations, acupuncture for treatment of chemotherapy-induced hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, and isolation of cell-signaling pathways targeted by specific TCM preparations. On the second day, investigators broke into small groups to allow for more discussions on subjects, such as integration of conventional and TCM therapies for cancer, applying clinical research methodology to the evaluation of TCM therapies, and regulatory challenges found in managing human-subjects research for collaborative international clinical trials. The conference closed on the third day with plenary sessions and a moderated panel discussion on "Conducting TCM Cancer Research in the West: Theory and Practice."

One theme that arose frequently during the conference was the challenge of verifying TCM therapies in the modern clinical setting. Most TCM herbal preparations are a combination of many natural products, and the active compounds they contain can vary drastically depending on where they were grown or collected, or even from one year to the next in the same area. Because of this natural variability, scientists stressed the need for rigorous quality control in production and a thorough understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind the efficacy observed in any TCM preparation.

Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School's Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medicine said, "Assurance of quality, purity, activity, and reproducibility are prerequisites to the conduct of future NIH trials."

For more information, go to http://www.cancer.gov/cam/news/tcm.html