CAM Center Profile

Government funding studies on CAM for cancer prevention and treatment

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in Bethesda, MD, recently announced several research studies that are focusing on CAM for cancer prevention and treatment. These studies may also look at whether CAM therapies may interfere with or enhance conventional treatments.

The studies come at a time when interest in CAM therapies among adults with cancer is high. The NCCAM Clearinghouse, which responds to inquiries about CAM from the public, receives more questions about CAM therapies for cancer than for any other medical condition.

One survey places the percentage of adult cancer patients who use CAM at 83%, NCCAM says. Among the CAM approaches used by cancer patients include prayer, meditation, and other forms of spiritual practice; vitamins, herbs, and special diets; exercise and other movement therapies; imagery and other relaxation techniques; and traditional Chinese medicine.

NCCAM specifically funds rigorous studies on CAM through grants to researchers at leading centers around the country and in its own Division of Intramural Research. In fiscal year 2002, NCCAM’s expenditures for cancer research totaled $14,253,000, or 16% of its research portfolio. In addition, NCCAM collaborates with other National Institutes of Health (NIH) institutes and centers, especially the National Cancer Institute.

The centers in the NCCAM research portfolio go through the same competitive application process as other NIH grants, says Michelle Bolek, MPH, a NCCAM spokesperson. "Federal code specifies this process and it is uniform across government agencies. The center grants are currently funded for three to five years with each subsequent year’s funding dependent on progress."

An integral part of NCCAM’s research portfolio is its network of specialized centers of research. (For more information, see www.nccam.nih.gov/training/centers.) Two centers currently are focusing on cancer research.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Cancer Complementary Medicine in Baltimore, MD. Researchers at Johns Hopkins, led by principal investigator Adrian S. Dobs, MD, are studying CAM modalities for cancer, including the antioxidant effects of herbs in cancer cells; the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of soy and tart cherry on aspects of cancer pain in four animal models; and the impact of spiritual practices on disease recurrence and immune and neuroendocrine function in African-American women with breast cancer.

The Specialized Center of Research in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The research, led by principal investigator Stephen R. Thom, MD, PhD, is conducting four projects to examine the mechanisms of action, safety, and clinical efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for head and neck tumors. The center is developing and validating a model to predict who benefits from hyperbaric oxygen benefits after laryngectomy; examining the effects of hyperbaric oxygen on growth of blood vessels and tumors; characterizing the effects of hyperbaric oxygen on cell adhesion and growth of metastatic tumor cells in the lung; and testing the effects of elevated oxygen pressures on cellular levels of nitric oxide.

Two centers have cancer research as a part of their research portfolios.

The Botanical Center for Age-Related Diseases at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. This research, led by Connie M. Weaver, PhD, is studying the health effects of plant polyphenols. Examples of these include soy, grapes, green tea, and several herbs. The Purdue researchers are collaborating with investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Stephen Barnes, PhD, is directing the UAB research.

The Center for Dietary Supplements Research on Botanicals at the University of California, Los Angeles. The center, led by David Heber, MD, PhD, is conducting basic and clinical research to explore the potential mechanisms of action of yeast-fermented rice for cholesterol reduction. It is examining the implications for heart disease prevention of green tea extract and soy for inhibition of tumor growth.

These four centers are conducting clinical trials with human volunteers and preclinical research, which does not involve human subjects, Bolek says.

The NCCAM Division of Intramural Research’s Oncology Program also is investigating selected CAM therapies for cancer. Currently, the division is conducting studies of:

Electroacupuncture, for delayed nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy in pediatric patients with osteosarcoma. Electroacupuncture, a variation of traditional acupuncture, involves placing needles on selected points on the body and pulsing them with an electric current to stimulate the points.

The herb mistletoe, combined with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, for patients with pancreatic, colorectal, lung, or breast cancer. Data from early studies suggest that mistletoe, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy, may stimulate the immune system and help cancer patients to feel better overall.

More information on NCCAM-sponsored clinical trials is available at nccam.nih.gov/clinicaltrials.