NCCIH director, Helene Langevin, MD, sets stage for new year priorities and partnerships

Helene Langevin, MD, the new director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, published a special message for the integrative healthcare community, outlining her strategic partnerships and priorities for her first official year leading the National Institutes of Health organization.

“It has been my longstanding conviction that integrative health care is more than just the sum of conventional and complementary health approaches,” Langevin writes. “When combined, these approaches can provide a frontier of new insights into the physiology of health and the pathophysiology underlying diseases and disorders.”

Langevin, who was sworn in as director of the NCCIH on November 26, 2018, says she hopes to maintain and build the organizations existing initiatives, while helping the Center reach “beyond its walls and across NIH.” She says she will encourage an emphasis on health promotion, whole-person approaches to care, and non-pharmacologic treatments, especially for pain management.

“Our current approach to patient care, in general, is fundamentally limited,” she says. “It often emphasizes the treatment of disease alone, while it many times neglects the promotion, support, and restoration of health. Integrative healthcare can help correct this limitation by giving more consideration to the patient’s long-term recovery and overall health when treating an acute illness or injury.”

Conventional medical approaches are limited, she writes, because they focus on physiological systems rather than understanding the person as a whole. Langevin says she looks forward to building partnerships to support cross-system research.

The NCCIH will also play an increasing role in finding solutions for the opioid crisis, with research on nondrug approaches to pain. While she says some types of chronic pain may warrant a new and better non-addictive pharmaceutical, perhaps in combination with nondrug therapies, we need to develop a better protocol for effective, personalized pain management interventions.

Prior to the NCCIH, Langevin served as director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, jointly based at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and professor-in-residence of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her research interests have centered on the role of connective tissue in chronic musculoskeletal pain and the mechanisms of acupuncture, manual, and movement-based therapies.

As NCCIH director, Langevin will oversee the scientific research on the diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. With an annual budget of approximately $142 million, the NCCIH funds and conducts research to help answer scientific and public health questions about natural products, mind and body practices, and pain management. The center also coordinates and collaborates with other research institutes and federal programs on research into complementary and integrative health.