ResearchACCAHC reports that CAM schools received just 4.6% of NCCAM’s $1.29 billion between 1999 2010At the June 2011 Biennial Meeting of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care, researcher participants reported that, of the roughly $1.29 billion


ACCAHC reports that CAM schools received just 4.6% of NCCAM’s $1.29-billion between 1999-2010 

At the June 2011 Biennial Meeting of the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care, researcher participants reported that, of the roughly $1.29-billion in appropriations to the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine from 1999-2010, 4.6% ($60-million) went to institutions that educate distinctly licensed CAM practitioners. Of the total, two institutions, Palmer College of Chiropractic and Bastyr University each accounted for roughly a third of the total. The data, below, were developed through an informal survey of ACCAHC’s research leaders. The total for NCCAM expenditures was created by adding up each year’s appropriations.



NCCAM Investment in CAM Schools: 1999-2010 




Millions $  

 Bastyr University



 National College of Natural Medicine



 National University of Health Sciences



 New England School of Acupuncture



 Northwestern Health Sciences University



 Oregon College of Oriental Medicine



 Palmer College



 University of Western States







Source: ACCAHC presentation to NIH NCCAM, February 28, 2011, as
presented at the ACCAHC Biennial Meeting, June 28, 2011.  

Comment: A colleague at a conventional academic institution responded to these data with a view that the percent is about where it should be, and perhaps even high. He reaches this conclusion based on the number of CAM schools, and their present research capacity, compared to that in the 125+ conventional medical programs. My own view is that this is akin to declaring that researchers in any medical specialty have equal rights to the dollars dedicated to research in any other specialty. Imagine if family medicine researchers told oncology researchers that they have a right to a percent of oncology research dollars. That would cause a huge uproar. Truth is, the accredited CAM schools represent over 95% of the integrative practitioners who are educated to a US Department of Education-recognized standard for integrative care. To believe anyone can do the research is to disrespect the distinctive care the consumer is receiving from members of these disciplines.

There are good and bad historic justifications for these investment patterns. First, the founding NCCAM director Stephen Straus, MD, utterly unpracticed as he was in any form of integrative care, drove investment away from the practical, integration focus urged in the NCCAM mandate. He knew nothing about actually integrative care, by experience or interest, and much less by passion. Strauss’ NCCAM had little interest in understanding why patients were drawn to the whole person practice outcomes of these practitioners. Thus “CAM” practitioner expertise was sidelined by the reductive, single agent and mechanism focus of his favored agenda.

Second, and more sympathetically, the distinctly licensed CAM fields were yet new to the culture of NIH and, with some exceptions, to significant research. Finding the CAM school-based PIs to lead projects was challenging. The good news is that the 1999-2010 period incubated a much larger community of skilled CAM investigators (even if, following Strauss’ priorities, their specialties tend to be in reductive approaches). Present NCCAM director Josephine Briggs, MD has written “real world research” into the 2011-2015 Strategic Plan. (See Jaded by Past NIH NCCAM Past Priorities? The 2011-2015 Strategic Plan Says Think Again.) In fact, Briggs’ plan specifically states that “CAM practitioners are the key holders of knowledge related to the potential application of CAM interventions and disciplines.” This is what Congress mandated NCCAM to explore. Here’s hoping that an analysis in 2015 will see closer to 20% of NCCAM’s budget going directly to these CAM institutions where these “key holders of knowledge” are housed.

NCCAM adds Berman, Cherkin, Kingston and Michener to National Advisory Council on CAM

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) announced 4 new members to the NIH National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at their June 2011 meeting. The incoming group includes: Brian Berman, MD, integrative medicine leader at the University of Maryland; Daniel Cherkin, PhD, health services researcher at the Group Health Research institute; biodiversity expert David Kingston, PhD, a former head of the American Society of Pharmacognosy; and James Michener, MD, chair of the department of community and family medicine at Duke University. The NCCAM release on the appointees is here

Comment: This is an interesting crop. Berman and Cherkin may be considered deans of research for the entire field. Each is an excellent choice. Unlike the vast majority (I would guess over 95%) of NCCAM-funded researchers from conventional academic health centers, Berman is a skilled and inquisitive, whole-person focused clinician. Cherkin is closely connected to all of the licensed CAM disciplines and has done exceptional health services work with his colleague Karen Sherman, PhD, also at Group Health. His expertise will be especially important with NCCAM’s emerging “real world” interests.

I am less excited about the other two. Kingston’s work supports natural products research. This remains NCCAM’s comfort zone, if not its highest value to the public health. A leader in the botanical field shares that Kingston is a “highly respected natural products chemist.” Kingston’s biodiversity connection adds an intriguing whole-system alignment with CAM philosophy. Michener is something of a wild-card, from the resume. Duke has a significant integrative medicine program, yet Michener doesn’t appear to be involved with it. Perhaps his work relative to obesity and prevention programs is seen to fit with NCCAM’s new interest in preventive approaches.

It is interesting that nothing was done in this group to address the chronic failure of NACCAM to comply with the NCCAM mandate that at least half be “licensed in one of the major systems” that NCCAM is charged to explore, and that others would be selected to reflect consumer interest. More on that soon.


Canadian government grants $2-million for inter-disciplinary research on safety of spinal manipulative therapy 

In a June 10, 2011 note to his Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine colleagues, Sunita Vohra, PhD, reported a $2-million “team grant” from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research to research patient safety of spinal-manipulative therapy. The $2-million grant is innovative in that it will “involve input from four regulatory colleges in Alberta.” One investigator is chiropractor Greg Kawchuck, DC, PhD. Involved also is the nation’s single chiropractic program, Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. Vohra is professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research scholar. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that the four colleges have collaborated with each other in a research initiative. We’re thrilled to work with the colleges of medicine, osteopathy, physical therapy and chiropractic.” Vohra speaks to the known importance of teams in safety issues: “From everything we understand about patient safety, the best way to achieve it is through a multidisciplinary approach-this involves four different professions all of whom have one area that overlaps.” 

Comment: Nice balance here, for a hot topic. Vohra seems a good person to be quarterbacking it. The inclusion of Toronto-based researcher Heather Boon, PhD is also a hopeful sign.