Monday, June 23, 2008

Traditional Chinese Medicine

I attended a seminar today on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and integration of that system of thinking with Western medicine. Throughout this week, I will be discussing some of the more salient points.

The highlights of the seminar:

1) Understanding TCM requires understanding Chinese culture; it is impossible to appreciate the full scope of TCM within the paradigm of Western medicine
2) We need to view disease processes through a "systems biology" (or, "everything's connected") point of view; one drug for one receptor will not suffice
3) Better mathematical models for understanding drug-drug interactions (antagonsim and synergy) are needed.
4) Better methods of standardizing plant-derived biologically active compounds, regardless of the cultural background, are also needed
5) Traditional pharmacoepaeia the world over needs to be evaluated for efficacy; this is especially the case in developing nations, where the culture might already have the tools needed to cure their own diseases at fractions of the cost of importing Western drugs.

One of the burning questions that was discussed later was whether TCM medications should be fast-tracked through the approval process. On the one hand, they've essentially been in human clinical trials for 5000 years. On the other hand, nobody knows how they work.

One big idea that got lost in the midst of all the excitement over how awesome these drugs are (and, make no mistake about it, they are drugs) is the fact that European herbal lore also has a rich array of pharmacologically active drugs, and nobody seems to object to St. John's Wort being sold in the supermarket (where I get mine). What's the difference?

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