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Last Updated: 11/9/12

Conference Convened on Collaboration in Cancer CAM Research

If the history of science has taught us anything, it’s that teamwork is the way to go.

“Nothing new that is really interesting comes without collaboration,” James Watson once said after the double helix discovery with Francis Crick back in the 1950s.

The National Institute of Cancer’s (NCI) Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) couldn’t agree more.

In October 2007, OCCAM hosted the Cancer Researchers and CAM Practitioners: Fostering Collaborations; Advancing the Science conference to bring together people who work with everything from apoptotic cancer cells to acupuncture. The goal was to facilitate one of the most important factors in science: teamwork.

OCCAM has long recognized that building and sustaining strong interdisciplinary partnerships is a critical factor in the success of some cancer complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research endeavors. To promote this, OCCAM Director Dr. Jeffrey D. White and his staff organized a two-day conference at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Natcher Conference Center for over 100 participants from all over the world.

“Many seem to agree that the quality and impact of research can be improved through greater dialogue and collaboration between experienced CAM practitioners and cancer researchers,” Dr. White said. “However, there has been very little examination or discussion of the factors that lead to productive dialogue and effective collaborations. We envisioned this conference as one step in a process toward a better understanding of these issues and the ways in which OCCAM can be helpful.”

For the first day of the conference, participants gathered to learn the importance of collaborations and how to build and sustain successful ones from researchers and practitioners in the CAM field.

The purpose of the first session, “Why collaborate?”, was to assemble individuals who could represent the diverse perspectives regarding cancer CAM research: cancer researcher, CAM practitioner, NIH program officer, and patient advocate. Each panelist provided a short statement on why collaboration is important to the further advancement of CAM research. The four panelists included Dr. Keith Block of the Block Center of Integrative Therapies, Dr. Wayne Jonas of the Samueli Institute, Dr. Barbara Sorkin of NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH), and Dr. Loice Swisher, a family advocate who used alternative therapies to help her cancer-stricken daughter.

“Collaboration, simply put, advances research in clinical care,” Dr. Block said during his time on the panel.

Later in the day, the sessions shifted to the topic of how to make a successful collaboration happen.

During the “How to develop relationships and prevent issues” session, Ellen Goldstein, program manager at the Clinical Translational Science Institute of the University of California, San Francisco, presented “Are you a good date or bad date?” Goldstein compared picking a collaborator to picking a significant other. “Such a relationship starts by choosing partners carefully,” Goldstein said, “taking time to get to know each other, and clarifying the prenuptial agreement.”

Although developing a good collaboration is a big part of advancing the science, the divide that can exist between the traditional and conventional world should be addressed.

“Conventional health care is an intimidating institution, and professionals working within it are largely unaware that there is a viable health care culture outside their domain,” said Pamela Miles, a Reiki practitioner from New York. “More mechanisms are needed to bridge the gap between conventional health care and traditional healers.”

To show that this can be accomplished, the conference presented some existing collaborations.

Dr. Gwen Wyatt, a professor at Michigan State University College of Nursing, and Barbara Brower, a certified foot reflexologist of the Branch Reflexology Institute, spoke about their experiences during the “Examples of successful collaborations” session.

“A project will not be successful without the contribution from the scientist and practitioner,” said Dr. Wyatt, who has been working with Brower for almost 10 years. “Barb and I agree that mutual respect for each other’s role is critical. We live it everyday, and it is critical.”

Other sessions on the first day included “How to sustain relationships and conflict resolutions” and “Aspects of successful collaborations.” The audience heard from Dr. Jeanne Drisko of the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Dr. Lawrence Kushi of Kaiser Permanente, to name a few.

The second day was divided into four different breakout sessions.

The “Developing CAM for Cancer: U.S. Regulations” session was chaired by Dr. Freddie Ann Hoffman of HeteroGeneity, LLC, and included presentations by Dr. Qin Ryan, Dr. Wei Chen, and Dr. Jinhui Dou of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who elaborated on the FDA regulations for natural products.

OCCAM’s Practice Assessment Program (PAP) director, Dr. Farah Zia, and PAP coordinator, CDR Colleen Lee led the “Understanding & Designing Clinical Case Reports” session with the aid of Dr. Janet Kahn of the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. This breakout focused on understanding and designing clinical case reports.

“The session was very educational for attendees, specifically CAM practitioners,” Dr. Zia said. “They not only heard about the cases we invite for presentation, but also the important basic aspects about effectively putting cases together for submission to NCI’s Best Case Series program.”

Dr. Phil Tonkins, a former OCCAM scientific program analyst, chaired the “Funding Sources: Federal and Non-federal” session. Dr. Tonkins was joined by Dr. Sorkin of NCCIH, Angela Webster of the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, Matthew Fritts of the Samueli Institute, and Dr. Gail Mallory of the Oncology Nursing Society Foundation.

The “Research Basics and Training Opportunities for CAM Practitioners” breakout session was chaired by Dr. Drisko with help from Dr. Block and Dr. Charlotte Gyllenhaal of the Block Center of Integrative Therapies, as well as Pamela Miles.

In between these breakouts, participants had the opportunity to present their cancer CAM research projects or details about their CAM practices during the conference’s two poster sessions. This gave people the opportunity to interact, learn about other projects in the field, and possibly begin planting seeds for future collaborations.

“Collaboration alone invites possibilities,” said Elizabeth Warson, a professor in the Graduate Art Therapy Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “As I presented my poster (art therapy workshops for American Indian cancer survivors) for an audience that appeared to be uninformed about art therapy, I began to realize that although the language may be a bit different, we shared similar ideas.”

Overall, the conference allowed participants to learn that effective communication is a skill needed to develop successful projects. The conference also put some misconceptions to rest about CAM practitioners and cancer researchers and gave everyone a chance to network with their peers to hopefully facilitate future collaborations.

“It was the most constructive cancer CAM conference I've attended to date,” said Heather Greenlee, a naturopathic physician and assistant professor at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. “I think this was because the focus was on…doing good science, working in collaborative relationships, and keeping an open mind to what CAM may or may not do.”

To view sessions from OCCAM’s Cancer Researchers and CAM Practitioners: Fostering Collaborations Advancing the Science conference, visit the OCCAM’s Web site at

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