The San Francisco-based Bernard Osher Foundation has awarded $10 million to to support the school's recently established Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies. The gift also will be used to establish the Harvard Medical School-Osher Institute for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies. The mission of both is to facilitate interdisciplinary and inter-institutional faculty collaboration to evaluate rigorously complementary and integrative medical treatments.
"This extraordinary gift from the Osher Foundation will allow us to take a leadership role in building a scientific understanding of the opportunities and risks encountered by patients seeking complementary and alternative therapies," said Harvard Medical School dean Joseph B. Martin. "We need to evaluate scientifically the effectiveness of these techniques — to assess the current status of our knowledge and determine what we need to do to advance that knowledge."
Complementary therapies are health-care practices such as acupuncture, herbal therapies, relaxation techniques, and therapeutic massage that mainstream, conventional medicine has not routinely made available. In 1997, Americans made an estimated 600 million office visits to practitioners of complementary medicine and spent roughly $30 billion out of pocket on complementary care. The budget of the National Institutes of Health for research in this area has roughly doubled every two years since 1993.
The existing division and the new institute will be directed by David Eisenberg, Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he directs the hospital's Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education.
"Bernard Osher, through his extraordinary generosity, has made this line of inquiry permanent. My hope is that when five or ten universities have sustainable infrastructure for research, education, and responsible patient care in this area, we will forget the terms 'alternative' and 'complementary' altogether and simply provide the best available medicine, based on the best available information," said Eisenberg, who studied complementary and alternative medicine in the People's Republic of China in 1979 as the first U.S. medical exchange student to that country.