Medical Center Med Center Awarded $1.7 Million

By Alex Finerman Special to The Hoya

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Georgetown University Medical Center a $1.7 million grant for its pioneering work in incorporating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into its curriculum.

“The reality is that the public is using complementary and alternative therapies,” said Aviad Haramati, a professor at the medical center. “The question is, do we have the responsibility to ensure graduate students are aware, understand evidence for and against approaches and have the skills and ability to communicate with and advise patients?”

Haramati is the principal investigator of the project for which the NIH awarded the grant. He said that he and his colleagues are in the process of integrating CAM issues into the medical school’s general curriculum. Because of the complexity of the topic, “most schools don’t tackle the four-year curriculum,” Haramati said.

The study of brain-body systems, how the nervous system relates to other organs, is already an area of interest to researchers.

“It’s not a large leap of logic to go from studying brain/body systems to an interest in mind-body medicine, how an individual’s entire perception of their environment, internal and external, influences their overall body and health,” said ichael Lumpkin, chair and professor of physiology and biophysics.

Although the NIH also awarded similar grants to the medical schools at the University of Michigan, Tufts University and the University of Minnesota, Georgetown is unique in the fact that material is introduced in required basic science courses.

“The intent is not to educate 10 extraordinarily knowledgeable integrated physicians. What we want is all 170 students who graduate to have a working knowledge of how CAM fits in medicine,” Haramati said.

Interest in CAM education originates from the Mini Med-School program the medical center runs to present lectures on science and medicine to the general public. According to Haramati, graduates of the program expressed an “intense desire” to learn more about complimentary and alternative medicine in small focus groups.

Many patients request CAM because it offers different benefits than traditional treatments. Oftentimes, they are less toxic than prescribed medicine. “[Patients are] not diagnosed as a disease entity, but treated as a whole human being,” Haramati said.

There is much debate in the medical community over the inclusion of CAM into medical research and curriculum. Lumpkin said he and and his colleagues felt that bringing CAM into the realm of scientific research and education is a necessary step.

“Science is important to understand what is useful, useless and downright harmful,” Lumpkin said. “The reason we are interested is because we are scientists that critically evaluate data, and we wish to extend that critical evaluation to CAM.”

Although the grant is for a five-year program, CAM is already being integrated into some courses. The gross anatomy class studies acupuncture, while in human endocrinology students learn about the physiology of stress and the relaxation response, stress management and reduction techniques. University faculty are investigating the effects of gingko biloba on the neuroendocrine system and the efficacy of supplements and vitamins on regulating high blood pressure and diabetes.

So far, student response has been positive. Prior to starting classes, medical students were asked in a survey if they had an interest in CAM. According to Lumpkin, an “overwhelming majority” said yes.

Studying CAM will benefit students both as physicians and in their personal lives, Haramati and Lumpkin said.

“CAM education is not only about knowledge, but also about their self-awareness and self-care,” Lumpkin said.

The integration of CAM into the Medical Center’s teaching and research is due in part to the university’s Jesuit heritage. In the view of Lumpkin, CAM “fits remarkably well with the Jesuit philosophy of education.” One of the tenets of complementary and alternative medicine is holistic care for the patient. This mirrors the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, or “caring for the whole person.”

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