An arbitrary division

The separation between CAM and conventional medicine is not fruitful. CAMbrella could bring these two worlds closer together, particularly where the same research issues are addressed by both “CAM researchers” and “conventional researchers”.

“I was quite impressed by the productiveness and the devotion in the CAMbrella group, and I am excited to see how CAMbrella will be moving forward,” said Dr Jan Paehler, Scientific Officer of DG Research at the European Commission.

Dr Paehler was invited to join the Scientific Steering Committee meeting at the International Congress on Complementary Medicine Research in Tromsø, May 18, 2010.

“The conference was very different from conventional conferences, and I was very inspired by having this opportunity to follow the work in CAMbrella,” he said.

“I am working at my desk in Brussels most of the time, and it was very useful to see all the faces and have the opportunity to talk to people. I think it is a great idea to combine the meeting with the conference, saving time and money.”

“I think we should change the way we define and talk about CAM. The definition so far has been negative, describing what CAM is not, e.g. non-conventional medicine. This is not fruitful, since it is maintaining an image of CAM as something different, outside the medical world.”

“The research is of equal quality and rigor to that of other medical fields, but in CAM research a broader set of methods is being used. If we want to progress regarding the effectiveness of interventions, we should move beyond the narrow focus of the randomized controlled trial – not only in the CAM area, but in medical research in general,” Paehler said.

Meaningful cooperation

“The methodological problems in CAM also exist in conventional medical research, e.g. that the setting of the trial in many cases does not reflect reality. Besides, CAM treatments are sometimes being criticized for not being based on positive evidence from randomized controlled trials. However, in conventional medicine treatments are also regularly provided without such evidence, often only based on the physician’s clinical experience. So to me, the wall between CAM and conventional medicine is more political than scientific.”

“We should not underestimate the outcome, if CAMbrella turns out to be successful. First of all this would prepare the ground for meaningful cooperation and create a comprehensive CAM research agenda. This will be very useful, especially if it attracts researchers from circles outside the CAMbrella group and from the conventional research community,” Paehler said.

“In the future there might be Framework Programme calls focusing directly on CAM, but there will also be calls addressing broader issues like e.g. pain relief, where CAM could be relevant. In this case, CAM researchers will be competing with other researchers, which I would consider a positive development. We will continue to invite experts in CAM to evaluate the diversity of research proposals we receive.”

“Now it is time to build bridges, and I think the separation between CAM and conventional medicine is arbitrary. CAM is here to stay, being used by millions of citizens, who are spending money out of the pocket, and we really need to increase the research effort.”

Text: Jesper Odde Madsen