New Alternative Medicine Center Opens at OHSU

09/30/99    Portland, Ore.

$7.8 Million NIH Grant Funds Center.

According to a recent survey, 40 percent of adults in the United States have turned to alternative medicine to try and treat what ails them. While many complementary and alternative treatments work, researchers admit there's a lack of scientific data on the subject. Now, an attempt is underway at Oregon Health Sciences University to solve some of these mysteries and to develop new alternative therapies.

OHSU has joined with five other Oregon institutions to form the Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders (ORCCAMIND). Member institutions include: the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Western States Chiropractic College, the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and the Portland Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Each ORCCAMIND member institution will play a role in advising the center, directing educational efforts and conducting research. The center will be based at OHSU.

A $7.8 million grant allowed for the formation of the center. The 5-year grant was issued by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

As its name suggests, ORCCAMIND will focus on research involving alternative therapies for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. Initial investigations will involve herbal medicines and yoga. Later investigations will involve other alternative therapies such as chiropractic manipulation, diet therapy and acupuncture.

Representatives from ORCCAMIND's member institutions agree that the rising popularity of alternative medicine influenced the creation of the center. "The consumer wants access to the most effective medical treatments available," said Elizabeth Goldblatt, Ph.D., president of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine. "Often the ideal treatment may indeed be a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, conventional medicine and other modalities."

As Goldblatt implies, increasing collaboration between the conventional medicine and the alternative medicine communities is a major goal of ORCCAMIND. Barry Oken, M.D., associate professor of neurology at OHSU and director of ORCCAMIND agrees. He hopes the center will play an active role in opening the lines of communication between experts in each area. "For years, the alternative and conventional specialists have been working for the same goals independently," said Oken. "This center and others like it will attempt to close that gap."

Researchers at all of the center's member institutions believe the Northwest's robust alternative medicine community makes Portland an ideal setting for this type of research and collaboration. "People in Oregon and along the West Coast are known to be open-minded and innovative," said Balz Frei, Ph.D., director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. "They are health conscious and well informed, and aware of the importance of nutrition and natural substances in maintaining optimum health and preventing disease."

Four initial research projects will be conducted at the center. The first will attempt to determine the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba, fatty acids and vitamin E in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. In another separate study, ginkgo biloba will be tested for its effectiveness in preventing or delaying the impacts of Alzheimer's disease. A third project will center on yoga and its benefits for seniors and people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The fourth project will focus on the use of vitamin E and ginkgo biloba in treating the effects of Alzheimer's disease in a mouse model.

Editors: Representatives from ORCCAMIND are available for comments. Please call Jim Newman at Oregon Health Sciences University to schedule interviews.