In a major fillip to India’s efforts to globalise ayurveda and other traditional medicines, the US department of health and human services’ premier National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) have expressed interest in documenting ayurveda’s success stories in treating cancer.
Dr G Gangadharan, director, MS Ramaiah Indic Center for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Bengaluru, who was part of an Indo-US joint delegation working on traditional medicine, said: “Some time in June, the US institutes expressed interest in documenting the success of ayurvedic treatment for cancer.” The delegation concluded in March 2016 its first meeting with the agenda ‘Collaborative Research on Traditional Medicine’.
Another integrated medicine expert with his own institute in Bengaluru, Dr Issac Mathai, who was also part of the delegation, said: “After the meeting in Delhi, the NIH and NCI teams visited the Ramaiah Centre and another facility.”
Gangadharan said several issues pertaining to traditional medicine, especially ayurveda, were discussed at the meeting and the expression of interest to document case studies will go a long way in taking this form of medicine to the world.
“While there is a lot of research in ayurveda, none of it is helping the traditional form. All of it is focused on identifying new molecules for modern medicine. The need of the hour is in proving how effective it is,” he said.
Although India has over 40,000 formulations in ayurveda, the Indian patent office has issued only 200 patents so far – of which 11% have gone to foreign entities with China leading the pack. Five patents have been granted for procedures to treat cancer and one has gone to a legal representative of a client in the US. The patent is for ‘Nutraceutical for the prevention and treatment of cancers and diseases affecting the liver’.
Although no generally accepted cure for cancer using ayurveda has been recorded officially in India, a recent test of a drug by AIIMS, Delhi showed improvement in the quality of life of cancer patients’, something the US is also aiming to enhance through President Obama’s Cancer Moonshot.
Mathai said there’s a lot of work in the field and once it materialises, partnership with the US will take ayurveda a long way.
The office of Dr Edward Trimble, director, Center for Global Health, NCI, confirmed the development. Soon after the March meeting, Trimble had said in a statement issued by the Union Ayush ministry: “The collaboration was a great opportunity to bring to the table from the US side NCI and NIH expertise in laboratory and clinical evaluation of traditional medicine and from the Indian side an impressive commitment to building the evidence base for traditional Indian medicine.”
The NIH research database shows over 3,574 papers on curcumin (a member of the ginger family) and cancer, and 1,161 papers on turmeric and cancer.
There are 2,500 studies on ginger, while there are 668 papers on fennel and 582 on cumin. According to a 2015 report of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) under the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the number of US citizens who have used ayurveda has jumped to 2.41 lakh in 2012 from 1.5 lakh in 2002.
An NHI factsheet on ayurveda says a few clinical trials in 2011 have shown some results for treating cancer using ayurveda. However, it says: “Most clinical trials of ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, or lacked appropriate control groups, potentially affecting research results.”