UCI receives major grant to study how acupuncture can treat cardiovascular ailments

02/05/04

Grant will help bridge gap between Western-Eastern medicine

Irvine, Calif., Feb. 5, 2004 -- The Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at UC Irvine has received a $2 million, five-year federal grant to continue studying how an ancient Eastern healing treatment can help treat cardiovascular illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and arrhythmias.

The grant extends a previous five-year grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Dr. John Longhurst -- UC Irvine cardiologist and director of the center -- received the grant and will continue leading research into how acupuncture triggers physiological changes in the brain that can reverse illnesses that impact millions of Americans.

The study is the first of its kind to receive federal support.

"Contemporary Western medicine has always been skeptical about acupuncture," said Longhurst, who is also the Lawrence K. Dodge Professor in Integrative Biology. "But the fact remains that hundreds of millions of people worldwide benefit from this treatment, so it is our goal to bridge this gap and bring a clear medical and scientific basis for acupuncture."

Longhurst points out that, despite its long history, there has been little medical research done on acupuncture's effects on certain diseases.

A practicing cardiologist, Longhurst studies at the molecular level how acupuncture excites brain cells to release neurotransmitters that either inhibit or heighten cardiovascular activity. Acupuncture is a 3,000-year-old form of Chinese medicine that involves inserting needles at specific points on the body to help cure disease or relieve pain. When an acupuncture needle is inserted at specific sites on the wrist, inside of the forearm or leg, this triggers the release of opioid chemicals in the brain that reduce excitatory responses in the cardiovascular system, according to Longhurst. This decreases the heart's activity and its need for oxygen, which in turn lowers blood pressure and promotes healing for a number of cardiac ailments, such as myocardial ischemia (insufficient blood flow to the heart) and arrhythmias.

"What we're trying to show is that acupuncture can be an excellent complement to other medical treatments, especially for those treating the cardiac system," Longhurst said. "The Western world is waiting for a clear scientific basis for using acupuncture, and we hope that this research ultimately will lead to the integration of ancient healing practices into modern medical treatment."

In addition to this current support to study the effects of acupuncture on the cardiac system, Longhurst has another $2 million grant from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to study central nervous system mechanisms triggered by acupuncture.

The Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine in the UCI College of Medicine is focused on scientific research and education in the broad field of complementary and alternative medicine. The center, which was established in early 2000 through a gift from Henry and Susan Samueli, is dedicated to public and professional education and scientific research on the use of complementary and integrative approaches in wellness and prevention as well as health care. For more information, see: www.ucihs.uci.edu/com/samueli.

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