Complementary medicine: UNE hosts unique forum

Published 16 March 2009

phelpsThe first international conference on the evidence supporting the use of complementary medicine, held at the  University of New England over the weekend, signalled a long-awaited rapprochement between the practice of complementary and orthodox medicine.

Professor Kerryn Phelps (pictured here), a former president (and first woman president) of the Australian Medical Association, delivered the opening address at the three-day conference. Professor Phelps  said that, with scientific evidence as the “bridge” between orthodox and complementary practice, “we won’t be seeing so much of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, but rather a working together”. She emphasised that “it’s important for us all to work together for what’s best for patients”.

In officially opening the conference, Senator Jan McLucas, the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, said that it was being held at “an important point in the history of complementary medicine in this country”, and called for “more dialogue between practitioners of orthodox and complementary medicine”. Simon Mills, a British leader in the field, said that, at an international level, complementary medicine was now “at a crossroads”, having acquired an evidence base with the potential – finally – “to make an impact on the world of orthodox medicine”. “A conference like this will help us to move on,” he said.

More than 320 people, from around Australia and from Russia, India, the UK, Sweden, New Zealand, the United States and Malaysia, attended the International Evidence-based Complementary Medicine Conference, hosted by UNE’s School of Health and School of Rural Medicine. The conveners, UNE’s Associate Professor Kerry Bone and Dr Yoni Luxford, said that it had been not only an international forum for the presentation of exciting new research results, but also a catalyst for research collaboration and acceleration.

An important aspect of the conference was its examination of interactions between orthodox and complementary treatments. Professor Bone, who is also the Director of Research at MediHerb, said that evidence presented over the three days had helped to identify and explain both positive and negative interactions, so that positive interactions could be encouraged and negative interactions avoided. Professor Bone’s own presentation at the conference examined the safety and efficacy of complementary therapies – often used in conjunction with orthodox medicine – in the treatment of cancer.

Professor Margo Halm from the United States, whose conference presentation was a review of available knowledge on the effectiveness of essential oils such as lavandin in managing symptoms in critically ill patients, has conducted research on the use of essential oils to prevent acute skin reactions in women undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer. Professor Halm is the Director of Nursing Research/Quality at United Hospital in St Paul, Minnesota.

Professor Frank Rosenfeldt, Head of the Cardiac Surgical Research Unit at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, presented the results of his research into improving the success of procedures such as cardiac bypass operations by using nutrients including antioxidants and fish oils. Professor Bone said the conference had heard about “an amazing amount of research on fish oils – including research related to brain development, the reduction of heart disease, and the treatment of inflammatory disorders”.

While a major focus of the conference was on herbal treatments, including the therapeutic effects of plants such as Echinacea and garlic and the therapeutic properties of plants used in traditional Aboriginal Australian medicine, evidence relating to the use of many other complementary therapies was reviewed.

Dr Luxford said the conference had provided a forum for “rejuvenation”, establishing networks that would enable the participants to “continue and extend their conversation about the way forward”. Professor Bone added that the conference’s generous support from the complementary medicines industry showed that “the industry is serious in promoting the accumulation of evidence in the field”.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor Kerryn Phelps displayed here expands to include Associate Professor Kerry Bone and Dr Yoni Luxford.