Stem-cell expert says snobbery slows research

Elitism, snobbishness and xenophobia in the scientific community are holding back valuable research into traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs), which could unlock cures for a range of debilitating diseases, a leading stem-cell researcher has said.

Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at King's College London, hit out at detractors of this form of complementary and alternative medicine. Used extensively throughout Asia, it is based predominantly on herbal extracts, but it also encompasses acupuncture and other remedies.

He also said that he saw no reason why universities should not offer degrees in the subject.

"What I want to do is demystify it," he said. "What is it in (these herbal substances) that really does something? The problem from an academic standpoint is there is still a little bit of scepticism. (It is) elitism, snobbishness and, to a lesser extent, xenophobia."

Dr Minger is leading a two-year project on behalf of the British Government to establish links between UK and Chinese scientists to study TCM to aid drug development. He said he became a convert to the potential of TCMs - and now uses them himself - after observing "significant biological effects" on cells he was growing. He now wants to pursue scientific experiments using human stem-cell lines to find the active ingredients in TCMs.

On degrees in TCM, he said that as long as they were "respectable" and "scientifically based" then there was no reason why they should not be offered (see story above).

"There is nothing wrong with a mixture of Eastern and Western philosophy or technology as long as it is taught by people who know what they are doing and that it is serious and it is rigorous," he said.

"There are a number of very modern universities (in China) for TCM. If we can emulate those, I don't see why not. You need people who are experienced in TCM, in acupuncture if you want to offer them as potential therapies to people on the National Health Service."

He said he did not know enough about homoeopathy to say whether degrees in it should be offered.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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