The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is a governmental agency that funds research “on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.” Recently the center held a research symposium in honor of its 20th anniversary to examine the progress in complementary and integrative health research and explore the future of the field.
NCCIH Director Dr. Helene Langevin kicked off the symposium by sharing her story of how she was one of the first recipients of NCCIH funding. She had conceived a robotic device that could measure the pressure of acupuncture needle insertion, something she said “many people considered crazy at the time.” With the help of the NCCIH, however, she created the mechanical tool, which ended up illuminating how biological tissue reacts to the insertion of needles.
In his opening remarks, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins shared some of the work that makes NCCIH “a critically important member of the NIH community.” NCCIH has contributed to many of NIH’s pioneering initiatives, including the BRAIN initiative and All of Us research program. He also reported that NCCIH is one of many centers leading the new Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative or NIH HEAL Initiative.
NCCIH is also part of several new programs related to pain, including efforts to reduce opioid use, research on chronic low back pain, and behavioral research interventions. The agency highlighted new research being conducted on pain and pain management. In the Stephen E. Straus Distinguished Lecture in the Science of Complementary Therapies, guest speaker Dr. Lorimer Moseley of the University of South Australia discussed his research on pain and perception. One of his interests includes how education affects pain, and if patients knowing why they’re in pain can affect how much they hurt. A study Dr. Moseley presented showed that when patients suffering from pain are taught about the purpose of pain, to protect the body, it actually facilitates their recovery. (Check out Dr. Moseley’s TED Talk)
The symposium also showcased the work of many early career pain scientists that have received NCCIH funding. A wide range of work was presented, including examining the genetic expression and cellular behavior of patients with pain, probing the neural circuits of pain in mice, understanding the psychological effects of instruction on pain perception in humans, and exploring the effectiveness of hot yoga and acupuncture on reducing pain in patients. Other segments of the symposium explored pain management in military and veteran populations.
In closing remarks, Dr. Langevin and NCCIH Deputy Director Dr. David Shurtlett discussed the future of integrative health research. They spoke of emphasizing recovery – recovery from pain, recovery from injury, and the importance of looking at the patient as a whole, such as integrating health and healthcare. The future work of the NCCIH has the potential to bring new discoveries and innovation in therapies to help patients and bring about better health for all.