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Centre for Integrative Medicine

Canadians are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) — including Chinese medicine — in overwhelming numbers. A 2006 report by the Fraser Institute found that 74% of Canadians had used at least one complementary therapy at some point in their lives. That is, nearly three-quarters of the population regularly incorporate complementary therapies into their health practices, often without discussing their therapy choices with a conventional healthcare professional. But how do complementary therapies work? How do they interact with conventional medications?

The Centre for Integrative Medicine is being established to answer these questions.

A partnership between the University of Toronto (U of T) and The Scarborough Hospital (TSH), the Centre will harness the considerable scientific and clinical expertise of these two institutions to evaluate CAM and its integration with conventional medicine. It will bring together researchers from U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and Faculty of Medicine alongside health care professionals at TSH to provide evidence-based practices to ensure patients make informed choices about the safe and effective use of CAM therapies as part of their health care. These therapies include many different practices and products such as natural health products, massage, meditation, and acupuncture, to name just a few.

Delivering needed answers

The Centre has three goals:

  1. To conduct research to enable individuals to make evidence-informed decisions about the safe and effective use of CAM as part of their care. This will include basic science research to better understand how natural health products affect wellbeing, as well as clinical research to know how patients are using CAM and its impact on health.
  2. To identify evidence-informed practices that improve the planning, delivery, outcomes and cost-effectiveness of health care across diverse patient populations.
  3. To educate health professionals and patients about CAM.

The Centre will take an interprofessional approach, bringing together many health professionals including nurses, physicians, pharmacists, CAM practitioners and others who work in the health care field. The Centre will include researchers from multiple disciplines including pharmacology and toxicology, biochemistry, population health, health economics and more. This will ensure that the knowledge gained at a bench in a laboratory is put into action at the bedside. It will also ensure that the lessons learned from how patients currently use CAM inform future research. The Centre will deliver the answers individuals seek about their day-to-day health, with an emphasis on disease prevention, health promotion and the management of chronic conditions that may benefit from complementary treatment, for instance pain control.

The Scarborough Hospital

Situated in one of the most diverse communities in Canada, Scarborough’s multicultural community, and in particular, its large Asian community, turn to TSH for both acute and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular and renal disease. TSH is a regional centre for dialysis and is renowned for its chronic disease prevention and management, mental health, orthopaedic surgery, maternal newborn and paediatrics and cancer care programs. It is a natural home for the Centre’s clinical program, which will be based at TSH’s Birchmount campus. This location will serve as a hub to administer and coordinate interdisciplinary programs in research, education and direct clinical care services related to CAM. Working collaboratively with the hospital’s primary care network and community agencies, special projects will be implemented in clinical settings and will be focused on the blending of evidenced-informed CAM and Western Medicine.

University of Toronto

U of T is consistently ranked among the best public universities in the world and has an international reputation for excellence in health research. At the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, researchers investigate questions relevant to modern drug therapy, including the role of pharmacists in the health care system, the mechanism of action of novel compounds, drug discovery and delivery, and countless others. The results of this research have a profound impact in drug therapy on both the molecular level and on entire populations. The Faculty of Medicine strives for international leadership in improving health through innovation in research and education. Driven by its mission of social responsibility, the Faculty works to improve the health of individuals and populations through the discovery, application and communication of knowledge. Together, these faculties will be the research engine powering the Centre.

Making connections

Phase one of the Centre’s development, which is already underway, is focused on consulting the local community and key stakeholders to ensure CIM serves the needs of this area. It will also establish the strong foundation needed for effective clinical care and research. By spring 2015, the Centre will launch a series of pilot projects that will meet the needs of the Scarborough community and be ready to announce its long-term plans.

As this new Centre develops, strategic partnerships are being established that will maximize its impact and reach. If you’re interested in engaging with the Centre, please ontact Natalie Bozinovski, Project Manager at natalie.bozinovski@utoronto.ca.