At yesterday's alternative medicine planning meeting at UH-Manoa were, from left, Dr. Katalin Csiszar, associate professor, Dr. Edwin Cadman, UH medical school dean and Dr. Rosanne Harrigan, associate dean.

UH to study
alternative medicine

A new department will probe
the benefits and bogus claims
of herbal treatments

By Helen Altonn

The University of Hawaii's medical school is taking steps to become a national leader in medical education and research integrating western and alternative medicine practices such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal remedies and homeopathy.

University of Hawaii

A Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been established as part of the John A. Burn's School of Medicine's reorganization.

Education and research are essential to tell people what works and what doesn't to protect them from fraudulent product claims and harmful effects, Dr. Edwin Cadman, medical school dean, said in an interview yesterday.

Research will be done on "therapies proven to work over centuries of time," he said.

"Some herbal remedies probably have medicinal chemicals that we wish to discover."

"An awful lot of people are using complementary and alternative medicine," Cadman said. "We need to educate future physicians about the use of this so they can guide patients through the maze of complementary and alternative options."

At a meeting yesterday at the East-West Center on "The Future of CAM Research and Education in Hawaii," Dr. David Eisenberg described an ambitious project at Harvard to build a multidisciplinary CAM team with specialists in western and alternative medicine. It will cover all issues, from research and education to outcomes, costs and data collection.

"I hope these are things we can do with Hawaii as it builds its team," Eisenberg said. Hawaii can play a major role in studies of interactions between herbs and drugs, he said.

Hawaii has "an astonishing opportunity" to develop integrated health care, Eisenberg said.

He cited Hawaii's unique ties to Asia and the mainland, its cultural diversity and traditional healing practices.

A national leader in the field, Eisenberg directs the Osher Institute and the Division of Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Ira Zunin, president of the Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Healthcare, said the National Institutes of Health has promised more money for Hawaii pending appropriate CAM developments.

The consortium invited Eisenberg to visit Oahu and the Big Island to help design a CAM research and education agenda and explore opportunities for partnerships with Harvard and other institutions.

Eisenberg said Harvard has "a wonderful pot of money" for pilot studies. He also said he will talk about a request for applications with Dr. Rosanne Harrigan, former dean of the school of nursing who now heads the new department as associate dean for integrative health.

Harrigan is working with Dr. Katalin Csiszar, second faculty member in the new department, on a strategic plan for the new department. It will collaborate with other UH departments and community health-care professionals.

Csiszar heads the basic science laboratory and is working with the Cancer Research Center on chemicals of the noni plant.

Csiszar said it's scary how many conditions the widely used noni is advertised to treat. It's being touted as "a magic drug," although no studies have been done to prove or disprove its benefits, she said.

Preliminary research here indicates the plant has potential as a significant medicinal agent but much more research is needed to understand how it affects normal and abnormal cells, she said.

University of Hawaii
UH John A. Burns School of Medicine

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