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Concept: An Open-Access Repository or Database for Anatomical and Physiological Ontology of Acupoints

Project Concept Review

Council Date: September 20, 2019

Program Officer: Wen G. Chen, Ph.D.


The acupuncture research community has generated a substantial amount of anatomical, biochemical, physiological, and behavioral data. However, a lack of consensus on the location and functional significance of specific acupoints (referring to locations on the body that can be stimulated using a variety of methods including, but not restricted to, acupuncture needles) has hampered substantial development of rigorous research on acupuncture’s therapeutic value. At a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) workshop on Translating Fundamental Science of Acupuncture Into Clinical Practice for Cancer Symptom Management, Pain, and Substance Abuse (, co-organized by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Cancer Institute, speakers and participants noted that there was a need for a database to deposit, share, and compare anatomical and physiological data associated with acupoints among various studies.

In response to this need, NCCIH sought input from the broader research community on the value of a potential open-access repository or database for acupoints and on key criteria and elements that would make this resource most useful through a Request for Information (RFI): Important Considerations for Potential Creation of an Open-Access Repository or Database for Anatomical and Physiological Ontology of Acupoints: More than 100 independent individuals and organizations provided valuable feedback to the questions raised in the RFI. The majority of the responders enthusiastically supported the idea of developing an NIH-sponsored open-access repository/database for anatomical and physiological ontology of acupoints and considered this resource would bring tremendous and transformative value to rigorous research, evidence-based clinical practice, and education on acupuncture-based interventions and therapies.

Purpose of Proposed Program

The purpose of the proposed initiative is to support an NCCIH Resource Center for the development and maintenance of an open-access repository or database for anatomical and physiological ontology of acupoints.


The repository/database would include the following features and functions:

  • Use of anatomical ontology based on Western medical science with cross-references to both the Eastern and Western nomenclature systems of acupoints
  • Inclusion of physiological correlates, such as structural and functional responses, neuroimaging data, biochemical data, and neurophysiological data
  • Inclusion of high-quality, searchable, accessible research data managed and updated by experts from the research community
  • Compatibility with other NIH-funded databases from major initiatives such as Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) and Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC).