Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Quest for Personalised Health

Interesting Article on the Journal of Chinese Medicine
There is still lot of skepticism about ancient Oriental philosophies and remedies in majority of population, but this is simply due to pure ignorance of both Western professionals and their patients. As more and more people are experimenting alternatives to conventional medicine, I am confident that Eastern methods of healing will find the way to be appreciated as they should all around the globe.

Quest for Personalised Health: Exploring the Emergent Interface of East Asian Medicines and Modern System Sciences  13/06/2011  

A cutting edge 'Quest for Personalised Health: Exploring the Emergent Interface of East Asian Medicines and Modern System Sciences' conference took place in London over the weekend. Organised by Volker Scheid with Bridie Andrews and Jan van der Greef, it brought together systems biologists, physicists, sinologists and Chinese medicine researchers and practitioners. The speakers were top drawer - Prof. Denis Noble (Professor Emeritus and co-Director of Computational Physiology), Nathan Sivin (Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania) and Prof. Andrew Pickering plus a host of experts in systems sciences, Chinese medicine and the interface between them.
    In what was at times a confusingly disparate two days, one main theme seemed to emerge, and that was how best to handle complexity. The early excitement surrounding the genome project was based on the expectation that having identified the 30000 genes in human DNA, manipulation of individual genes would lead to dramatic new solutions for human disease. It is now apparent that this reductionist approach simply isn't working, and that it is the interaction of genes within the human organism, mediated by higher level systems and a host of environmental factors, that determines health and disease. The attempt to track the complex way this entire system functions has led to overwhelmingly indigestible amounts of data. Concurrently, the pharmaceutical industry has hit a wall with fewer and fewer new drugs produced  at ever greater cost. The single bullet approach appears to be nearing the end of its useful life at the same time as it becomes apparent that it delivers less than it has claimed. If reductionism is therefore too limited, and complexity too overwhelming, how can medicine move forward?
    One answer may be to learn from Chinese medicine - as long as it is approached with respect and an open mind. One key feature of Chinese medicine - at the level of best practice - has been its skill in managing complexity. Traditional diagnosis incorporates a wide array of information beyond the relatively narrow confines of disease category whilst the medicine - especially herbal medicine - handles an array of complex prescriptions, each composed of  several complex ingredients combining synergistically, often in known ways. How does it cope?
    First, Chinese medicine is characterised by the recognition that there may be a variety of possible solutions to the same problem. Different doctors are much more likely to prescribe different prescriptions of herbs or acupuncture points for the same patient than they are to come up with identical prescriptions, and yet although it is recognised that some solutions are likely to be more effective than others, there is no one single 'right' way to respond to an individual patient.
    Secondly, Chinese medicine is able to flexibly interweave treatment at the level of the disease, the presenting pattern and the individual, thus spanning a range from the more reductionist to the more complex and variable. It is perhaps the pattern recognition aspect that offers the most to systems sciences, and fascinating work is being done on exactly this by those such as Professor Jan van der Greef and Jan Schroen from the Sino-Dutch Research Centre for Preventive and Personalized Medicine, both of whom presented at this conference. Pattern differentiation can be seen as the integrating factor between the relative reductionism of disease identification and the relative complexity of unique individual presentation.
    Thirdly, Chinese herbal medicine offers a kind of modular approach, with an arsenal of base prescriptions (many tried and tested over centuries) which are then tailored and modified for the patient by the addition and subtraction of ingredients or by flexible combinations with other prescriptions. Of course it would be naive to think that Chinese medicine handles this approach without disagreement and contradiction. Prof. Yi-Li Wu showed how Sheng Hua Tang (Generating and Transforming Decoction) was misused in late Imperial China by practitioners who applied it as a one-size-fits-all treatment for postpartum women, despite the fact that it was designed to warm and move blood stasis and was therefore potentially contraindicated (and harmful) for women suffering from heat and deficiency. Her presentation also raised the more complex question of how and when Chinese medicine practitioners should prescribe unmodified formulas, modified formulas or entirely different formulas.
    It is hard to do justice to the range of presentations at this conference, several of which took me to the edge (and beyond) of my ability to handle systems science, biology and physics. And the range of presentations - from the history of qi in ancient Chinese philosophy to the weaknesses and potential pitfalls of Chinese medicine research - threatened to overwhelm at times. But it was hard to escape the feeling that these discussions were taking place at the cutting edge of 21st century medicine.

1 comment:

  1. Sirs,

    i have become interested in your group. I have a page on the internet that promotes links to sites critical of psychiatry and opposing to coercive-traditional psychiatry., opposed to forceful incarceration of mentally ill people who have not done any crime but traditional psychiatry believes they should be forced to treatment on the idea that they are going to harm other people in a future and their risk should be eliminated. I like to know if you are full blooded against the forced commitment of mentally ill. Recently, psychiatry accuses any controversy to their futile practice as a conspiracy of scientology. I am not a scientology follower at all.