Chinese herbal medicine: how effective is it?

Are Western scientists crazy to be dabbling in Chinese herbal medicine? Not if it holds the key to Alzheimer’s disease.

A jar of browny-green goo is all it took to end Dr Stephen Minger’s doubtsabout whether traditional Chinese medicine could teach anything to Western science. When a colleague walked into the leading stem cell scientist’s lab at King’s College London with a Chinese remedy that he believed could boost brain cell growth, and asked if he could test his theory on some neurons that Dr Minger had grown in his lab, he wasn’t keen.

“My first thought was ‘you’re not putting that on my cells’. But it turned out to be amazing stuff. It really stimulated the cells to grow; they grew like weeds,” recalls Dr Minger, the ponytailed scientist who has has been in the spotlight since 2003, when his team created the UK’s first lab-grown human embryonic stem cells. These are the “blank-slate” cells that have the power to turn into any cell of the body and may be key in producing more effective treatments for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s.

But for all of his scientific credentials, Dr Minger is about to step out of the conventional and into the alternative. At the time of the “green-goo” incident, neither he nor his colleague had the time or money to investigate further the ancient remedy that produced such an astonishing effect.

But the experience stayed with Dr Minger and he began to view Chinese medicine in a different light. If its remedies could make brain cells grow, could they help to treat diseases that destroy the brain such as Alzheimer’s?

Now the Government has asked him to head a two-year project aimed at strengthening links between UK and Chinese scientists. He immediately thought of using the project as a way of probing the ancient cures of traditional Chinese medicine, often referred to as TCM, to see if they can be converted into modern treatments.

Source - Times

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