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NCCIH Research Blog

What Can We Learn by Studying Neurobiological Effects and Mechanisms?

June 9, 2016

Wen G. Chen, Ph.D.

Wen Chen, Ph.D.

Branch Chief and Program Director

Basic and Mechanistic Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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In our new 2016 Strategic Plan: Exploring the Science of Complementary and Integrative Health, we focus on neurobiological effects and mechanisms as one of our Center's top scientific priorities.

Why emphasize the nervous system? Because it plays a key role in pain, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and other symptoms people may try to manage using complementary and integrative health approaches. There are major gaps in scientific understanding of how these approaches affect the nervous system's structure and function, so much research in this area is needed.

Studying the ways in which complementary health approaches affect the nervous system is very challenging, but fortunately, new scientific techniques have made it more feasible. Recent transformative advances in genomics, neuroscience, systems biology, predictive computational modeling, and other fields have given us resources and opportunities for innovative studies.

Our objectives for research on neurobiological mechanisms include:

  • Developing cellular or animal models in which researchers can investigate the neural mechanisms of complementary and integrative approaches
  • Finding out the neural basis for the effects of using various forms of acupuncture and manual therapies
  • Investigating the neural pathways underlying the effects of mindfulness and related interventions, all the way from the brain to the peripheral tissues and organs such as the gut, muscles, bone, heart, and microbiome
  • Assessing the neural pathways or mechanisms by which meditative movement and related therapies affect the central nervous system
  • Investigating the neural mechanisms by which certain natural products, such as cannabinoids and some herbs or patches used in traditional Chinese medicine, may relieve pain.

You can find out more about neurobiological effects and mechanisms and our other scientific priorities by reading NCCIH's new strategic plan. And please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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