New Collaboration Seeks to Bridge East-West Medicine Divide

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FEBRUARY 16, 2014 - Georgetown University Medical Center (new window) (GUMC) is seeking to promote the integration of traditional Eastern approaches to medicine with evidence-based medicine through a new collaboration with a medical center in South Korea.

The agreement is with the Comprehensive and Integrative Medicine Institute (CIMI) at Daegu Catholic University Medical Center in Daegu, South Korea. Daegu is the fourth-largest city in South Korea, located in the southeast of the country.

Anticipated in the agreement are a number of projects aiming to bridge the divide between different styles of medicine: the traditional comprehensive and integrative medicine of Korea and China, and the scientific, evidence-based complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) of the United States. The projects are funded by a $250,000 grant from the South Korean government.

“We have a vested significant interest in fully understanding the value of complementary and alternative medicine, including having incorporated it into our medical school curriculum and offering a master’s degree in this area,” says Robert Clarke, PhD, DSc (new window), dean for research at GUMC. “We have already identified several areas which have excellent potential for collaboration.”

Establishing a Shared Framework

Projects include the possibility of establishing a global Institutional Review Board (IRB) for CIMI protocols, as well as launching an international peer-reviewed journal focused on studies that integrate Korean traditional medicine with Chinese and Western medicine. The journal, which will be published in English and will accept submissions from around the world, will be under the direction of James Giordano, PhD (new window), professor of biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology at GUMC.

Another facet is the development of a collaborative bioinformatics project that leverages existing resources such as the Georgetown Database of Cancer (G-DOC®) to advance personalized medicine research involving complementary and integrative medicine. GUMC will also assist CIMI in designing and developing patient treatment protocols and pre-clinical research projects.

Opportunities for collaborative research projects are abundant, according to Clarke and Kevin FitzGerald, SJ, PhD (new window), associate professor in oncology and the Dr. David P. Lauler Chair for Catholic Health Care Ethics at GUMC.

FitzGerald, who has helped spearhead this agreement, says this lays the groundwork for “finding answers to pressing scientific and regulatory questions” regarding a growing international field that has come to be known as complementary and integrative medicine (CIM).

For example, researchers have long studied the safety and efficacy of herbal treatments for cancer, but testing such treatments in people presents a regulatory challenge.

“How do you develop and run a clinical trial with an herbal treatment if you don’t know exactly what is in it? There are many pressing international regulatory questions to be addressed,” FitzGerald says.

Other joint research opportunities involve the use of acupuncture to treat side effects of cancer treatment and the effects of various medicinal herbs on cells that have been conditionally reprogrammed—referring to a groundbreaking technique developed at Georgetown that keeps cells alive indefinitely in the laboratory.

The collaboration also establishes the possibility for training opportunities where Georgetown students and trainees could study and work in South Korea, and vice versa.

Going Global

FitzGerald notes that advances in genetic research have led to a more personalized approach to medicine that requires a more integrated understanding of—not just a person’s genes—but also their lifestyle, diet and day-to-day environment. Further, as medicine becomes more globalized, it is essential to consider all the environmental and cultural factors around the globe that may contribute to each patient’s overall picture of health.

“If we are seeking to promise patients the individualization of health care, we have to go about it with a global perspective,” FitzGerald says.

As a next step, GUMC will host the Global Comprehensive and Integrative Medicine Summit on Feb. 24 for a variety of collaborators from the United States, South Korea and China. 

By Lauren Wolkoff
GUMC Communications