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Children’s Hospital researchers take serious look at testing alternative therapies

Researchers at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis have narrowed the language gap between traditional medicine and untested alternative therapies often sought out by desperate parents of cancer-stricken children.

In the first large-scale study of a homeopathic supplement using traditional research methods, researchers demonstrated that complementary alternative methods (CAM) can be tested with the same rigorous techniques used for traditional therapies.

“We know complementary treatments can be very helpful for pediatric patients, but there is limited research to support our clinical observations,” said Dr. Susan Sencer, medical director of hematology/oncology at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

“So much of CAM is considered individual-based, with an individual practitioner, looking at an individual patient and using a whole suite of techniques,” so researchers cannot isolate the effect of one particular treatment in a controlled double blind study with the use of placebo, she said. As a result, physicians and patients have struggled to find ways to integrate traditional western medicine and CAM, according to Sencer.

The Children’s’ Hospital study looked at the effectiveness of the homeopathic agent Traumeel in treating mucositis, a painful side effect of many cancer treatment regimens. “While we found this treatment to be ineffective for mucositis, I’m excited about the potential this trial has for the future of complementary and alternative medicine research,” Sencer said.

Researchers historically have been reluctant to allocate scarce funding to research CAM treatments, often viewed as trivial,” according to Sencer, re-inforcing the feeling that to pursue such research would be “a death knell for my career.” That reluctance has softened in recent years with rising public pressure to study CAM and physicians increasing acceptance of integrating CAM treatments into their patients’ plan.

Sencer said that physicians and families were very willing to participate in this study because the condition, mucositis, is a painful inflammation of the intestinal tract that has no clear-cut treatment and can create serious complications for pediatric cancer patients. Future research will study CAM treatments for children with brain tumors, she said. “Giving credible information to really desperate people is important,” she said.

Homeopathic supplements generate an estimated $200 million in annual sales, according to the American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists. This represents a small part of the $24 billion nutritional supplement industry, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

In the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, 190 eligible patients received either Traumeel S or a placebo five times daily as a swish-and-swallow rinse. Results showed Traumeel S to be ineffective at preventing and treating mucositis, but no adverse events were found to be related to use of the study drug, according to the researchers. The findings were presented at the Society for Integrative Oncology’s Sixth International Conference in New York earlier this month.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by A Mahapatra on 12/08/2009 - 10:59 am.

    Interesting story. It is good to see physicians applying the scientific method to CAM before coming to conclusions.

    More of my views on this here: http://bit.ly/6Xhm0F

  2. Submitted by Seth Rogan on 12/09/2009 - 12:36 am.

    This is worthy but not the first of such trials. A very similar trial of the Tromeel agents was done nearly 10 years ago by Israeli doctors, to treat
    stomatitis.

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/85009171/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

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