SAN FRANCISCOA new center for alternative medicine, one of only
a handful in the nation, will soon open at the Biomedical Research
Institution of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF),
educators announced at a symposium on integrative care.
Funded by the philanthropy of the Osher family, the new
programthe UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicinewill
investigate alternative medicines and therapies, testing their
efficacy, as well as treating patients with such illnesses as cancer
and chronic back pain through acupuncture and herbs.
The center will provide a new kind of medicinea medicine
that honors healing the whole person as much as it honors curing the
disease, said Haile Debas, MD, future chancellor and current
dean of the UCSF Medical School.
Instead of bringing in a cadre of alternative practitioners to
practice their art, however, Dr. Debas believes that the new Osher
Center can best serve the public through stringent investigations of
alternative therapies and education of physicians and residents about
His interest in alternative medicine began when he read a 1993 study
by David Eisenberg, MD, of Harvard University, showing that Americans
spend more than $10 billion a year on alternative medicineand
that the number of visits to alternative practitioners exceeds those
to primary care providers. It was a vote of no confidence in
western medicineinformation that we felt we had to take
seriously, Dr. Debas said.
Dr. Eisenberg has now formed a center of alternative medicine at
Harvard, where he is assistant professor of medicine. One of
the most startling observations of our initial national study was
that 72% of the people who used alternative therapies for the
treatment of serious illnesses never discussed them with their
physicians. That is sobering, he said. We have a moral
imperative to set that right.
Thats why Dr. Eisenberg believes that more universities such as
Harvard and UCSF need to sponsor centers that will investigate
Right now we have a market-driven tidal wave, he said.
Instead, we need rigorous scientific evaluation of alternative
medicine. We also need to train the next generation of nurses and
physicians to know how to have a responsible conversation with
patients about the use or avoidance of alternative medicine.
UCSF is already beginning research in alternative
medicinespecifically a program that studies the worth of
intensive psychosocial support and lifestyle changes for breast
cancer patients. The researchers will be testing the use of standard
psychotherapy as well as yoga, meditation, nutrition, guided imagery,
and expressive arts and movement.
Additionally, a small group of 20 patients with advanced metastatic
breast cancer will be treated with the herbal remedies of Tibetan
medicine, all selected by renowned Tibetan physician Yeshi Dhonden.
The herbs, however, will first be tested for toxicity, and patients
will be monitored for liver function. The trial will continue only if
the herbs prove as effective as standard therapy.
Our goal in treating breast cancer is not only to treat the
cancer but also to return a woman to a life she wants to live, a life
that is hopefully better than before, said Laura Esserman, MD,
MBA, director of the UCSF Breast Care Center. Thats why the
center will be studying lifestyle changes and herbs along with
numerous conventional therapeutics.
In studying Tibetan herbs, weve found that some do have
antitumor effects; they kill cell lines. At the same time, weve
also found some to be toxic. There is simply a lot to be learned
through careful testing and careful science, she said.
UCSF already sponsors classes for its medical school students in
alternative therapies such as homeopathy, classes the school hopes to
expand and continue through the Osher center. The Osher program will
be centered in the medical school, but other professional schools,
such as the schools of nursing and dentistry, have been invited to participate.
Ward Glenn Gypson, MD, associate clinical professor of orthopedics,
UCSF, and medical director of rehabilitation services, San Francisco
General Hospital, will spearhead the effort to bring alternative
medicine to the universitys orthopedics clinics. Health
professionals will administer acupuncture for pain relief, and the
clinics may offer classes in guided imagery, hypnosis, tai chi, and yoga.
These techniques approach pain in a different way than
conventional medicine. They deal with the emotional and psychological
aspects of pain, as well as the physical symptoms, Dr. Gypson
said. An additional benefit is that patients will learn these
techniques not from someone off the street but from educators and
qualified health professionals, he said.