Globalisation of Chinese medicine Print E-mail
By Ji Shuo Ming (Published in the 2007 issue of Asia Weekly)
Translated by ITN Translation Agency www.itn2u.com

Western & Chinese Medicine Shall Become One in the Future

Over 500 scholars and government officials attended the 2006 Global Chinese Medicine Convention in Hong Kong. Advanced technological development has propelled Chinese medicine into a new era, whereby Chinese and western medicine shall become one, and Hong Kong has positioned itself as the globalisation base for Chinese medicine.

The internet has broken all boundaries between the east and the west. For example, an American telecom provider can now serve its American customers in India. Such feat is being observed in the bio-tech realm too. The 2006 Global Chinese Medicine Convention in Hong Kong was one such gesture to look for the possibility of fusing Chinese and western medicine.

The Convention, organised by the Chinese Medicine Faculty of Hong Kong Baptist University, attracted 500 scholars, government officials and medical experts from all over the world. Over 70 world-renowned scholars, officials and medical experts from China, America, Canada, England, Germany, Australia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao etc were invited as VIPs. The organiser received 400 over theses from 23 countries, and selected 149 participants to present special case reports. 200 over theses were published as posters. 3 concurrent seminars were run everyday and numerous workshops were conducted, in full collaboration with WHO’s West Pacific office. The event was an unprecedented occasion for the progress of Chinese medicine.

Mr. She Jing, the Deputy Minister of China’s Ministry of Health cum the Head-of-staff of the Chinese Medicine Control Board, delivered a special speech on ‘The 11/5 Development Strategies for Chinese Medicine in China’. Professor Liu Liang, the Dean of the Chinese Medicine Faculty of Hong Kong Baptist University cum Organising Chairman of the Convention, maintained that Chinese medicine was progressing by leaps and bounds. “In the foreseeable future, with the globalisation of Chinese medicine, medical history shall witness traditional herbs as an invaluable medicine and the guardian of good health.”

Though Chinese medicine was born in the east, you could see a lot of Caucasian scholars in rapt discussion with their eastern counterparts in the Convention. According to sources from the Convention, there were in fact more western medical professionals taking part in the Convention, and they came from various countries. They had one thing in common—passion in Chinese medicine. Professor Zheng Yong Qi, a renowned American Chinese scientist, a teaching professor at Yale University and the President of Chinese Medicine Globalisation Alliance, who obtained his PhD degree in pharmacology from Brown University and won uncountable awards with his work on anti-cancer drugs, came to Hong Kong just to attend the event.

As the Chief Advisor for the Convention’s Advisor Committee, Prof. Zheng delivered a speech on ‘Chinese Medicine Can Be the Prima Donna of Future Medical Progress’. During an interview by Asia Weekly reporters, Prof. Zheng opined that all medical philosophies with different cultural backgrounds would ultimately consolidate as one. He said, “There is only one medicine in the future. We don’t differentiate between western and Chinese medicine anymore.”

Prof. Zheng’s work in the States centres around the treatment and prevention of cancer. Western medicine emphasises on target-specific drug treatment, yet the same cancer might have various causes, and this represents a major bottleneck to conventional western medicine. Other metabolic disorders such as diabetes, fatty liver, hypertension etc are multifactorial too, and we would need a multi-target approach. Prof. Zheng indicated that doctors need to revamp their approaches and consider the multi-target angle of treatment regime. “And this has opened the door to Chinese medicine because a herb would have a potpourri of active compounds that act on multiple target sites, in complete accordance to our new approach.” In December 2003, Prof. Zheng founded the Chinese Medicine Globalisation Alliance in order to shed the regional role of Chinese medicine and incorporate it into the mainstream over time. The Alliance aims to enrol top-notch international research centres, pharmaceutical giants and government bodies under its wings. There were 16 founder members consisting of famous research centres from Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and America. Today it already has 61 members.

By recruiting top-notch research centres from all over the world, the Chinese Medicine Globalisation Alliance aims to provide 4 technical platforms, including Chinese medicine quality control, determination of herb sources and the standards of cultivation, archiving of Chinese herbs, promotion of international clinical trials, and the ultimate objective of globalising Chinese herbs via accreditations from western countries such as the FDA approval.

Unveiling the pharmacological myths of Chinese medicine

Prof. Zheng explained that Chinese medicine did not experience any breakthrough in the past because earlier technologies were unable to unveil its pharmacology. “However, recent progress in medical technologies over the last 10 to 20 years have enabled us to investigate the pharmacology of Chinese medicine. The time has come for it to take flight.”

The Taiwan Hygiene Research Institute fellow Dr. Lai Ji Ming, also the recruiter for the Taiwan Cancer Research Group, is doing clinical trials in the country. In the Convention he revealed that he had been to the States to participate in a program which used an integrated approach to treat cancer, and 70-80% of the theses presented were about acupuncture or traditional Chinese herbs. “In this convention, I can see that the use of Chinese herbs in cancer treatment has reached a totally brand new level. Chinese medicine is gaining more interests, be it in basic research or clinical trials, and that’s a good thing. Heightening interests in Chinese medicine will skyrocket its popularity in the medical world.’

America is starting to pay attention to clinical trials with Chinese herbs in order to better help the patients. The Americans call it complementary medicine since it can make up for the areas of failure in western medicine. Dr. Lai said, “I’m a western doctor and an anti-cancer worker, so I happened to be in the mainstream at the right time.” He was doing some anti-cancer research work on TXL that year. He remarked, “My research objective was to find a well-established herb for cancer treatment. My work this year has shown that the active ingredients in TXL can suppress the growth of cancer cells and that has really sparked my interest in Chinese medicine.”

All this while, Chinese medicine has been an important and integral part of traditional medicine. According to some statistics, 90% of mainland Chinese, 50% of Japanese, 45% of Singaporeans, 60% of Hong Kong people and 69% of Koreans have all used Chinese medicine before. Professor Zhao Zhen Zhong of Hong Kong Baptist University related that this phenomenon was not limited to Asia only. More and more people around the world are starting to use Chinese medicine, a living proof of its effectiveness. However, Chinese medicine would still need a sound and solid theory to verify its efficacy.

Antineoplastic theory of Chinese medicine taken seriously

In his speech Dr. Lai Ji Ming mentioned that as mixed compounds, herbs are ideal as a multiple site anti-cancer drugs. “Looking from the angle of molecular biology, I can see why Chinese herbs can induce cancer cell death or induce it to become benign, controlling its cell cycle, inhibiting the transmission of mitotic messengers. Herbs can block the activities of collective cancer cells from all directions and the working principles are easy to understand. When we analyse cancer cells with molecular biology, the potential of Chinese herbs surfaces immediately.” Dr. Lai proposed.

Dr. Zhao Zhong Zhen, the Organising Chairman of the Convention, said that they had received a lot of scientific papers proposing new paradigm. Some excellent new proposals included re-acquaintance with Chinese medicine, new product development, new education models etc. Dr. Zhao opined that the Convention was one of the most scholarlistic international forums, a convenient platform for medical dialogues between the east and the west. It had prompted some development in the Chinese herb industry in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Governor has also highlighted the development of Hong Kong into an international hub for Chinese medicine in some of his reports. At the moment, there are 7000 plus registered Chinese physicians in Hong Kong and 4000 over have a licence to practise. There are about 16,000 registered Chinese herbal products and over 7000 herb suppliers. A quarter of China’s herbal products is exported through Hong Kong. Baptist University has set up the first Chinese medicine faculty in Hong Kong. Dr. Zhao acquired his MSc degree from Beijing Medical University and his PhD degree from a Japanese university. He went to Hong Kong in 1999. He felt that Hong Kong would be an ideal international hub to promote Chinese medicine, as proven by the Convention.

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