Georgetown University has launched a program in which medical students can receive both a medical degree and a Masters in Science in Physiology/Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The new program is the latest offering of the CAM program at Georgetown. Now in its third year, the CAM master’s class doubled from 9 to 18 students in its second year, and 20 students are enrolled for this fall.
“Our master’s program is the first basic sciences graduate level degree-granting program in complementary medicine in the United States,” said Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, an associate professor in the program who teaches courses on herbs and dietary supplements, and medical history.
The program can be completed in 12 months. Students take a survey course on CAM and courses in physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, biostatistics, mind-body skills, history, and herbs and dietary supplements, and electives. Guest speakers in the CAM seminar series have included Ted Kaptchuk, OMD, Director of Harvard University’s Osher Institute Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Therapies; Tieraona Low Dog, MD, Director of Botanical Medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine; Jerry Cott, PhD, a noted psychopharmacologist and herb expert at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration; and Joe Betz, PhD, a pharmacognosist and herb expert at the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.
“The academic medical establishment can do one of two things: ignore the rising tide of CAM and how it affects patients, or study it in an open-minded, scientifically valid way,” said Adam Myers, PhD, professor of physiology and co-director of the new master’s program. “This new program is in a unique position to train scientists and doctors to study herbs and CAM therapies in a scientific manner, take the mystery out of the marketing, and make recommendations based on data rather than commercial claims.”
The CAM program seeks to blend didactics, experiential learning, and research opportunities. Students are also required to participate in a research project or practicum in the CAM field. Practica have included internships at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Federal Trade Commission, World Health Organization, Osher Institute at Harvard, and research projects at Georgetown, including studies delineating the physiological effects of dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinale Weber ex F.H. Wigg., Asteraceae).
This summer students have worked on diverse projects including an ethnographic study of herbalists in Southern Appalachia, holistic veterinary care, a review of bioidentical hormones, and a survey on the history of drug advertising in medical journals.
One student project resulted in the creation of the Urban Herbs Web site (http://www.georgetown.edu/departments/physiology/cam/urbanherbs/urban1.htm), which introduces people to the medicinal and edible herbs that surround those who dwell in the heart of cities. Medicinal plants identified on campus include burdock (Arctium lappa >L., Asteraceae), curled dock (Rumex crispus L., Polygonaceae), chicory (Cichorium intybus L., Asteraceae), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum Siebold & Zucc., Polygonaceae), English plantain (Plantago lanceolata L., Plantaginaceae), pokeweed (Phytolacca americana L., Phytolaccaceae), Jimson weed (Datura stramonium L., Solanaceae), ginkgo (G. biloba >L., Ginkgoaceae), chaste-tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus L., Verbenaceae), and echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia DC., Asteraceae). The entries include descriptions, historical uses, modern uses, and adverse effects. For example, one entry explains that warfarin, a widely used anticoagulant drug, was originally derived from dicoumarol. Dicoumarol is produced from yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis [L.] Pall., Fabaceae) when this species is contaminated with an Aspergillus mold—originally discovered when livestock consuming moldy Melilotus species led to hemorrhagic deaths of the animals. The anticoagulant dicoumarol compound is not present in dry plant material. The entry also explains that scopolamine, used today as an anti-motion sickness drug, was derived from Jimson weed (Datura spp., Solanaceae). However, today most of the pharmaceutical scopolamine and related tropane alkaloids are derived commercially from trees in the genus Duboisia (Solanaceae) from Australia.
The CAM program also contributes plants to, and conducts tours of, the Pharmacopeial Garden created by the pharmacology department. The collection currently includes lavender (Lavandula spp., Lamiaceae), woolly foxglove (Digitalis lanata Ehrh., Scrophulariaceae), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L., Lamiaceae), thyme (Thymus spp., Lamiaceae), vervain (Verbena officinalis L., Verbenaceae), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum L., Clusiaceae), poppy (Papaver somniferum L., Papaveraceae), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa L., Ranunculaceae), danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza L., Lamiaceae), rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa Libosch. ex Fisch.& Mey., Scrophulariaceae), valerian (Valeriana officinalis L., Valerianaceae), aconite (Aconitum napellu s L., Ranunculaceae), arnica (Arnica chamissonis Less., Asteraceae), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa L., Asclepiadaceae), comfrey (Symphytum officinale L., Boraginaceae), German chamomile (Matricaria recutita L., Asteraceae), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum L., Berberidaceae), and beebalm (Monarda didyma L., Lamiaceae). This sampling is designed to stimulate interest in the diversity of useful plants and provide some interesting tidbits about historical and modern use.
The Georgetown CAM Master’s program emphasizes traditional methods of scientific inquiry while training students in critical analysis of current CAM research. “Some will become physicians who are experts in integrative medicine and others will go on to research or health policy tracks. There is great demand in research, regulatory, and policy arenas for people with rigorous scientific training in CAM, and until now that training hasn’t existed,” said Myers.
Application materials, sample curricula, and faculty bios are available at http://camprogram.georgetown.edu or by phoning Dr. Adam Myers at 202-687-1766.