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Research Will Examine Alternative Treatments for Arthritis Pain

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By News release • • December 30, 1999

The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Complementary Medicine Program has received a $7.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund a wide range of new research into alternative treatments for pain, including acupuncture, mind/body therapies and herbal remedies. The grant establishes the University of Maryland as a Specialized Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, one of only nine research centers in the country to receive this prestigious NIH designation.

"This grant confirms our position as a national leader in the effort to find complementary treatments for painful and debilitating conditions that affect millions of Americans," says Brian Berman, M.D., director of the School of Medicine’s Complementary Medicine Program, and principal investigator. One of the program’s primary goals is to find new ways to alleviate the pain of arthritis and its related disorders. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 40 million Americans (1 in 6) suffer from arthritis, costing the economy billions of dollars a year in treatment expense, lost wages and lower productivity.

The grant will be used to fund four new studies, including the expansion of what is already the largest study ever undertaken to determine the effectiveness of traditional Chinese acupuncture. The study involves 570 patients suffering from osteoarthritis(OA)of the knee, a condition characterized by a breakdown of cartilage and pain within the joint. Women are twice as likely as men to develop OA of the knee, especially after menopause.

"People who have OA live with a great deal of pain," says Dr. Berman. "They have tremendous difficulty performing ordinary activities that many of us take for granted. Going to the store and walking up the steps can be painful experiences." The additional funding will enable researchers to track the same patients for a longer period of time and to assess the cost effectiveness of the treatment." The key to finding affordable and effective pain relief may be found in the blending of modern medicine with the healing traditions of other cultures," says Dr. Berman. "We need to re-discover the art of healing."

Dr. Berman will also head a new study testing complementary treatments for fibromyalgia, a painful arthritic condition that strikes primarily women. He says Qi Gong, an ancient form of Chinese movement therapy, and a relaxation technique called mindfulness meditation have both shown promise as complementary treatments.

Complementary medicine is a term used to describe therapies and diagnostic techniques that many consider to be outside of mainstream Western medicine. Complementary medicine covers a wide range of treatments, including acupuncture, relaxation techniques, herbal and nutritional supplements and spiritual healing. Many of the therapies share a common belief in the need to treat the "whole person" in order to promote health and well being. Berman says about 40 percent of Americans are using some form of complementary medicine.
"Complementary medicine is not necessarily a substitute for conventional treatments," says Dr. Berman, "in fact, it may enhance conventional treatments, and give doctors additional options for their patients."

On a basic research level, scientists in the Complementary Medicine Program will begin to study how acupuncture works to reduce inflammation and pain. University of Maryland researchers will also evaluate the effectiveness of traditional Chinese herbal preparations.

"This research is important because is could lead to therapies that are less invasive and less costly," says Donald E. Wilson, M.D., M.A.C.P., Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine. "By awarding this grant, the NIH is clearly recognizing the potential benefits of complementary medicine and demonstrating confidence in the research capabilities of Dr. Berman and his staff."
In addition to funding new studies, the five-year NIH grant will be used to train new investigators in the field of complementary and alternative medicine, and to establish a research infrastructure to give scientists the resources they need for future studies.

"It is time to take a serious look at how well these therapies work," says Dr. Berman, "and put complementary and alternative medicine on a solid evidence-based footing."

Source: University of Maryland Medicine

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