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Anti-CAM Bloggers and Homeopathic Researchers: Reports on Two Meetings with NCCAM's Briggs PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Anti-CAM Bloggers and Homeopathic Researchers: Reports on Two Stakeholder Meetings with NCCAM's Briggs

Summary: US President Obama's Big Tent policy has nothing on NIH NCCAM's director Josephine Briggs, MD. Briggs is actively and commendably exploring the far reaches of this field for which she is charged with creating the 2011-2015 strategic plan for deploying some $600-million in research funds. Six weeks ago, she and her top staff met with an international delegation of homeopathic researchers, organized by Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, RS Hom (NA), president of the National Center for Homeopathy. Then Briggs reportedly extended an invite to a group of anti-CAM bloggers, anchored by Yale School of Medicine's Steven Novella, MD. These folks don't believe there is value in anything NCCAM has done, reserves a special vintage ire for homeopathy, and have called for a de-budget bombing into smithereens of Briggs' professional home, NCCAM. Here are reports on the two meetings.
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Gahles: NCH leader organized the meeting
1.   International homeopathic team meets with NCCAM: Nancy Gahles, DC reports

An international team of top researchers in homeopathy recently met with NIH NCCAM leadership to explore NCCAM's relationship with their field. The meeting was organized by Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, RS Hom(NA), president of the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH). The topic: "Homeopathy Research - State of the Science & Future Recommendations."

top-flight team included Iris Bell, MD, and Molly Punzo, MD, who were with her physically at the NIH. Via teleconference, Gahles wired in Martin Chaplin, Rustum Roy, Stephen Baumgartner, Harald Wallach, Klaus von Ammon, Peter Fisher and Claudia Witt (via slides). NCCAM was represented by director Josephine Briggs, MD, deputy director Jack Killen, MD, Richard Nahin, PhD, MPH and 3 others. Gahles reports that her team began by presenting NCCAM with a "6-inch binder of research."

, in a report to the Integrator, assessed that the meeting went "very well." In her view, a presentation by Chaplin and Roy on chemistry and slides that "showed activity of homeopathic remedies on basophils and IgG" seemed to be particularly compelling to the NCCAM team in suggesting mechanism of action. Gahles underscored that conventional bio-markers seemed to be key in stimulating interest from the NCCAM team.

On the other hand, a presentation on quantum physics and energy medicine seemed to be less useful in making in the case. At one point, an NCCAM team member who said he found the presentation "powerful" asked what the community of top scientists would think. Those in the meeting responded: "We are the leading scientists in the field."

Bell: Top researcher onsite as part of the NCH team
The NCH team reiterated key points they had made in a submission on the NCCAM 2011-2015 strategic plan. They urged representation on the NCCAM advisory council, more research funding, and specifically more "real world" research. Gahles considers the next steps on research challenging. She is actively involved in gathering CVs is submit names for the advisory council. Her conclusion was that her group "will continue to build on the inroads we have made."
Comment: One of the perverse pleasures that comes from the disposition of the NIH to hire NCCAM leaders who have no prior experience in alternative or integrative medicine is to think of the culture shock when they move from a zone of relative comfort - drug research on fractions of botanical  - into the far reaches such as homeopathic theory and practice. In truth, forms of energetic thinking and practice are infused throughout the "CAM" universe; homeopathy's dance with Avogadro's number merely makes it, with distant prayer, the most challenging. It is probably good that Briggs' extensive and admirable self-education process over the last 2 years preceded this meeting. The culture shock may had this meeting been in her first months. Credit Gahles for her gumption in pulling her field into this meeting and the NCCAM team for taking it. 

Novella: Meeting with his sworn enemy
2. Anti-CAM blogging trio, led by Yale's Stephen Novella, MD,  invited to meet with NCCAM team

A trio of anti-CAM bloggers who have called for de-funding and shutting down NCCAM recently held a meeting with an NCCAM team that included director Josephine Briggs, MD and deputy director Jack Killeen, MD. In a blog posting entitled "Our Visit with NCCAM," the meeting is reported in detail by one of the attendees, Steven Novella, MD, a member of the faculty at the Yale School of Medicine.

"The one concrete result was an offer
to have (us) review NCCAM material
before it is published. We, of course,
agreed to offer our services."

Briggs reportedly requested the meeting, which included Novella and his colleagues David Gorski, MD, PhD and Kimball Atwood, MD. One area in which the trio expressed concern is NCCAM "putting the cart before the horse" by doing pragmatic trials prior to mechanism and efficacy research. They report that Briggs "defended the utility of pragmatic studies but also acknowledged our concerns."

The bloggers then pressed a favorite issue, urging that NCCAM not even consider funding of homeopathy research. The reported answer:
"Dr. Briggs response was that in the last two years (under her directorship) the NCCAM has not funded any studies of homeopathy, which is true. However, they still accept applications for homeopathic research, but none have made it through the review process and been awarded funding."

Novella then pressed on his widely-published view that NCCAM's website validates therapies and approaches. He notes that "the one concrete result of the meeting was an offer to have experts from SBM review NCCAM material before it is published. We, of course, agreed to offer our services."

Comment: Novella's posting reads like a Fox News interview: 95% his team's point, then a brief NCCAM response. That Briggs asked for the meeting likely grew out of an early March conference at Yale at which Novella and she both participated. For this, she deserves the Barack Obama Big Tent award for her proven interest in sitting down with everyone, no matter which party affiliation or belief. (Some have said this was proven in early 2008 when she Briggs met with me.) Arguably, Briggs takes her openness to dialogue further than the President. While Obama has kept arms length from leaders who call for the demise of the United States, Briggs has now met with those who have been lobbing bombs at her professional home for years, calling steadily for NCCAM's destruction.

Briggs' offer that this group can review content is a little disconcerting. Does the NIH's National Heart Lung and Blood Institute ask Julian Whitaker, MD or Michael Murray, ND or the chelation doctors with American College for the Advancement of Medicine who are critical of typical heart care to review their content on their site?

I am intrigued, though not entirely pleased with Briggs offer, as I am with Obama's strategy. This may be the politics that allows maximum movement in a polarized culture. At the same time, just as I often want Obama to play to the progressives whose activism got him elected, I want Briggs to respond above all to the wishes of the practitioners and patient and other stakeholders who actually offer or receive integrative services and were the reason US Senator Tom Harkin and others created NCCAM. It is one thing to have a variety of opinions at the table. It is quite another to empower one who wants to kill you, as this group has wanted to off NCCAM.

That said, what would have been especially interesting is if Briggs' scheduler crossed wires and the anti-NCCAM bloggers and homeopathic researchers had showed up for the same meeting time.

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