The Joint Chair in Traditional Chinese Medicine (JCTCM) Program in NSW

The Joint Chair in Traditional Chinese Medicine (JCTCM) Program in NSW

by Professor Kelvin Chan and Dr Valentina Naumovski
CSC academic group: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Kelvin Chan is the Joint Chair in Traditional Chinese medicine, a joint appointment between the University Sydney and Western Sydney. Dr Valentina Naumovski is the postdoctoral research fellow in the program. Their research interests include analytical, pharmacological clinical use, and social/healthcare aspects of Chinese medicine treatment.

Brief Background on the Progress of Traditional Medicine

Most developed regions worldwide are struggling with the high cost of health care, while healthcare in under-developed regions is not adequately catered for. The World Health Organization (WHO) campaign on health for all in the 21st century is a difficult target to achieve. For conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia, the cost of treating these diseases will run in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the next 50 years. Following the success of the human genome project supported by emerging new science and technology, very few new pharmaceuticals have made an impact on these crippling diseases. It is becoming apparent that single ‘magic bullets’ cannot address the complex nature of these diseases and we need multi-targeted approaches.

quote In Australia, two in three people use complementary medicine each year, with the complementary medicine industry worth $1.5-2.5 billion per annum1. Of those that take complementary medicine, around 27% use Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).2

Traditional medicine, as used in China, Korea, Japan and India and many other regions, uses a holistic approach to treating conditions of the body. For optimal health, a balance needs to be achieved between the physical body, emotions, nature and society. After a series of simple diagnostic tests, not quite understood in the context of conventional orthodox medicine, the treatment is individualised to the patient’s condition. There is no high-tech equipment: knowledge and formulations are passed down from generation to generation over thousands of years. Treatment can take many forms, from massage to acupuncture, to a concoction of herbal medicines or a combination of these modalities. In these regions, traditional medicine or other complementary treatments are used concurrently with conventional medicine by the public for their healthcare. This trend is becoming apparent in developed regions such as Germany, the US, England and in Australia. In Australia, two in three people use complementary medicine each year, with the complementary medicine industry worth $1.5-2.5 billion per annum1. Of those that take complementary medicine, around 27% use TCM.2

To meet the needs and demands of the integration of complementary medicines into healthcare, modernising the healthcare professional/provider (practitioners, nurses, paramedical workers, community care providers and social workers) through education and training is of strategic importance. In July 2012, Australia initiated registration of all Chinese medicine practitioners, supported by standards, codes and guidelines. From a logistic viewpoint, it would be an enormous advantage to provide an R&D direction for integrating the available well-tried experience-based TCM paradigm with the increasingly advanced orthodox paradigm. However, only anecdotal examples of success using TCM treatment for diseases that have not been successfully treated by conventional medicine have been reported. There are many people in the public eye advocating against the use of complementary medicine due to limited scientific evidence. Most are calling on institutions to discontinue programs that teach and provide training in complementary medicine. So we ask ‘How can the success of complementary medicine be assessed? How can such successes be integrated into public healthcare?’

The Establishment of the JCTCM Program in NSW

To address some of these issues, an agreement between The University of Sydney (USyd), University of Western Sydney (UWS) and the NSW Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD), now the Office of Science Research (OSR), was initiated in 2008. This established the JCTCM programme to assist in fostering collaboration and growth in the research and development of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in NSW. The Chair is a strategic appointment whereby the holder of the Chair should provide national leadership in TCM research and develop synergistic TCM research programs at USyd and UWS. The program is jointly funded by DSRD, USyd and the UWS, and the projects are supported through the Faculty of Pharmacy (USyd) and the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research (CompleMED, UWS).

After an international recruitment process resulting in the appointment of Kevin Chan the JCTCM Chair commenced the program in the beginning of 2010. A high level Project Plan was developed in early 2010 and identified strategic research priorities in TCM, including:

  • Investigating the background of manufacturing and analysis methods to provide herbal product consistency and predictable bioactivity;
  • Contributing to R&D product development (pharmacological and clinical investigations, linking biomarkers and patient reported outcomes);
  • Contributing to the development of of TCM bioinformatics and data management to capture traditional knowledge;
  • Assisting with Chinese herb cultivation to address quality supply issues and increase the agricultural potential of Chinese medicinal materials in Australia;
  • Initiating, developing and continuing national and international collaborations with other institutes and industry partners; and
  • Developing the national and international profile of NSW and Australia in TCM.

Current Progress of the JCTCM Program

The JCTCM program is complex as it is diverse and encompasses many facets of collaboration, research and training, particularly with Chinese partners. The program has hosted a variety of public lectures, seminars, workshops and delegations during the course of the program thus far, and participated in national TCM forums, all contributing to the development of the profile of the program and potential collaborations between national and international partners.

Nationally, the JCTCM Chair has been involved in the development of the Centre of Excellence for Integrative Medicine (COEIM) under construction at Chatswood. The COEIM is a collaborative initiative of the OSR of the NSW Government, Australia and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SATCM) of the People’s Republic of China. The purposes of the Centre is to provide holistic patient care, wellness, prevention of illness/early intervention of chronic diseases and post-disease rehabilitation complementing conventional treatment patterns. This high profile project has attracted considerable interest and support from University institutes, industry and the community. JCTCM participates in regular Advisory Committee meetings and is Science Co-chair for its Annual Forum. The inaugural forum was held at Chatswood in October 2011, attracting both domestic and international researchers, industry and academic participants.

With the appointment of Dr Valentina Naumovski as postdoctoral researcher as the JCTCM Scientific Officer in July, 2010, the JCTCM Chair has initiated and supported many individual projects leading to higher degrees.

To further training in the area of complementary medicine, the JCTCM program has provided a series of guest lectures to the MPharm and MHerbal Medicines and Nursing School at USyd (e.g. TCM background, chemistry and toxicology of herbs, clinical trials) and MSc course in TCM at UWS.

Conclusive Observation of the JCTCM Program

With the high burden of disease on populations worldwide and increasing healthcare costs, we need to explore opportunities to integrate traditional and modern medicinal practices. Both paradigms of professional healthcare, whether it be Chinese or Western, have a lot to learn from each other. We must encourage interdisciplinary discourse and inquiry at all times and take advantage of these opportunities. As with a multi-targeted approach to treatment in the modern era, the JCTCM offers a multi-disciplinary approach to providing evidence-based research for complementary medicine. This is essential for TCM’s acceptance in modern mainstream medicine.

TCM within the China Studies Centre

Traditional Chinese medicine is a part of China’s history, culture and life. In 2010, the TCM academic group formed in the China Studies Centre under the leadership of Prof Basil Roufogalis, a leading academic in natural product research and development at the University of Sydney. Prof Kelvin Chan took the role of convenor in 2012 after Prof Roufogalis’ retirement. There are 16 active members within the group. A USyd CSC Major Research Project was awarded to study the “Regulation and authentication of scheduled and toxic Chinese herbs in Australia” (GLi, K Chan, McLachlan, K Li, V Naumovski, J Poon) in April 2011. There is much to learn from the Chinese experience in health care, particularly TCM’s successful integration with Western medicine. Most recently, USyd hosted the 1st Sino-Australia Medical and Hospital Forum which brought together Chinese and Australian health professionals. TCM does not just represent healthcare; there are opportunities to engage with government, industry and society. There are prospects for the universal regulation of Chinese medicinal goods which requires government intervention, economic opportunities for Australia and China in agricultural investment in medicinal plants.

Acknowledgements to our collaborators as above and Dr Samiuela Lee, CompleMED admin staff, UWS, and Ms Eleanor Luntao from the Faculty of Pharmacy, USyd.

The Joint Chair in Traditional Chinese Medicine (JCTCM) Program in NSW

Key reference websites:
1 National Institute of Complementary Medicine.
2 Zhang AL, Story DF, Lin V, Vitetta L, Xue CC (2008) A population survey on the use of 24 common medicinal herbs in Australia. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, 17(10): 1006-13.
3 The Good Practice in TCM Research Association, GP-TCMRA