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TCM Urged to Team up with Life Science
A specialist on innovation in traditional Chinese medicine has called on the country's expert herbalist doctors to team up with life scientists to help the ancient discipline survive the challenges posed by modern biomedicine.

Biochemical, cryobiology, neurology and synthetic chemistry could help bring together the huge but fragmentary data of traditional Chinese medicine and find out, in more scientific terms, what ingredients were effective in treating different diseases and how each ingredient functioned, said Hui Yongzheng head of a Shanghai-based research center for innovation in traditional Chinese medicine.

According to Hui, the effect and scientific proof of Chinese herbal medicine, which had been fully demonstrated in medical practices over several thousand years, needed to be interpreted into scientific terms to be widely accepted in the international market.

During a series of recent activities on industrial innovation in the Pudong New District, Hui compared the development of modern medicine to fishing, and traditional Chinese medicine to a large pond with many fish, saying herbal medicine could be used in modern therapies.

Worldwide scientists had turned to traditional herbal medicine in recent years, as chemical medicine started to show more side-effects, he said.

Some European scientists have recently found out that one ingredient in a noted Chinese herbal recipe containing angelica could be used to treat blood cancer, and have applied for patent protection.

Meanwhile, a leading US medical firm has chosen four herbal plants currently on sale in the international market for clinical tests, hoping to find out more about the function of each ingredient.

Latest figures show Chinese herbal medicine sales on the international market currently stand at US$10 billion a year, and are still rising by 10 percent annually. However, China, the origin of herbal medicine with 12,800 herbal plants available and over 10,000 proven recipes, takes up only 3-5 percent of the market share.

Some herbal medicine manufacturers in southeast Asia and Europe are buying raw material from China at low cost and taking a high percentage of the international, and even Chinese, markets, with their final products.

"It's therefore high time for us to speed up research and innovation of traditional Chinese medicine, without which we cannot expect to have independent intellectual property rights or a niche in the market," said Hui.

A standard production management and quality control system is also essential to improve craftsmanship in the traditional industry, he added.

To speed up the modernization of traditional Chinese medicine, Hui and his colleagues set up a special databank earlier this year, designed to be a platform for the integration of Chinese herbs with modern biomedicine.

The databank has collected data on 1,200 diseases known to both Chinese and western medicine, all herbal recipes that have proved effective since 1950, and a detailed account of over 10,000 herbal plants.

(Xinhua News Agency September 19, 2002)

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