Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is getting a new lease on life with plans to conduct research on its ancient empirical methods and establish international standards. Laying the groundwork, a strategy for the next 15 years was jointly published by 16 central government departments last week.
The government program is of particular importance in light of the heated debate on the future of TCM touched off by an online petition to remove TCM from the national public health system.
Traditional Chinese medicine has its own theory and methodology based on the accumulation of 2,000 years of experience. The storehouse of thousands of remedies is based on prescribing mixtures of medicinal herbs based on patients' case histories.
Its empirical diagnostic approach - taking the pulse, examining the tongue, analyzing the smell of a patient - has been denigrated as unscientific.
These accusations have led to breakthroughs updating the ancient practice. If TCM remains at the empirical stage, it can hardly compete with the constant updating in diagnostic and treatment techniques of its Western counterparts.
The government's new strategic program will increase input in sorting out ancient TCM classic medications and various therapies used by individual practitioners, who continue the practices of their predecessors. A bank of medicinal herbs will be established, along with a bank of chemical samples of herbal medicines.
A set of standards that can be accepted internationally will be established and the translation of TCM terminology will be standardized.
Even more important, the program will focus on developing some new TCM medicines to promote health.
This could offer bright prospects for the future of TCM, which has a reputation for effective treatment of some chronic diseases.
By applying modern biochemical technology to the research and production of traditional herbal medicines, the useful herbal elements can be refined and the mixing of ingredients from different herbs standardized. As a result, herbal remedies may become more effective, with fewer side effects.
If research can find the connection between the empirical diagnosis approach of TCM and the causes of disease, it will lead to breakthroughs in the discipline.
(China Daily March 26, 2007)