The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) announced today the appointment of five new advisory council members, including massage therapist and researcher Cynthia Price, Ph.D., L.M.T.
Price is a research associate professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems at the University of Washington School of Nursing, in Seattle. She also sits on the Research Proposal Review Committee of the Massage Therapy Foundation.
NCCIH is one of 27 centers and institutes under the umbrella of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). NCCIH is charged with funding research into complementary medicine, including massage, chiropractic, meditation, acupuncture and herbology, among others. (NCCIH was called, until late 2014, The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which had evolved from the Office of Alternative Medicine established in 1992.)
The Advisory Council
NCCIH’s advisory council is charged with analyzing recommendations from peer review groups regarding research, attending advisory council meetings, and making recommendations about the importance and quality of research to NCCIH Director Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., according to NCCIH Deputy Director David Shurtleff, Ph.D.
Price’s first advisory council meeting was scheduled for today, June 3.
“Being able to participate and serve [on the advisory council] feels like an honor,” Price told MASSAGE Magazine. “I’m hoping I have some perspective to add; there aren’t a lot of people involved on the council who have trained in any of the complementary therapies—there’s really only a couple of us—so having that perspective, I think, is really helpful.”
Shurtleff told MASSAGE Magazine that NCCIH staff was impressed by Price’s background as a clinician and a scientist, and by the fact that she has received NIH grant funding and therefore understands the grant process.
Price’s research includes a current project working with women in drug-and-alcohol treatment, looking at whether a body-oriented therapy Price developed helps reduce substance abuse relapse rates during and for the year following treatment, as well as improving other health outcomes. (Her grant for that project came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and she noted that this is an example of the fact that NIH centers in addition to NCCIH are potentially interested in funding complementary therapies research.)
Training Future Researchers
A current goal at the NCCIH now, according to Shurtleff, is training clinical scientists to perform research into complementary therapies. One of the objectives outlined in the NCCIH 2016–2021 Strategic Plan (Draft), released March 25, is to enhance the complementary and integrative health research workforce. (Update: The NCCIH released its final Strategic Plan on June 3.)
The appointment of Price to the advisory council, he said, will help support that goal, as she is a clinical scientist herself and so able to help determine how to train the next generation of clinical scientists.
“We are thinking about acupuncturist/Ph.D., L.M.T./Ph.D.—any field you can think of that would fall under the complementary health umbrella,” Shurtleff explained. “It’s not unique to the NCCIH; if you look across the NIH, many institutes are struggling with how to train clinical scientists.”
That struggle, Shurtleff said, is due in large part to diminishing funds.
“In the early ’90s, there was a doubling of the budget during the Clinton administration—and frankly since that time we have had either no increase or one year a slight decrease, and with inflation, it’s an overall decrease in our spending power,” he explained. “So, the number of applications in any given year we can fund is continuing to go down.”
This slows down the progress of science, Shurtleff added. “People will think, ‘Is [research] a competitive path for me?’” he said. “We are risking losing the next generation of researchers.”
Advisory Council Mandate
Price’s four-year appointment also represents a step toward fulfilling the NCCIH’s legislative mandate that requires the NCCIH to seat at least nine people licensed in the integrative fields on its advisory council.
Shurtleff said a large part of the reason why the mandate has not been fulfilled has been difficulty in locating research scientists who hold a Ph.D. along with licensure in a complementary therapy.
Price said her own appointment, along with that of naturopathic doctor Patricia Herman, N.D., Ph.D., is a positive step forward, but added there’s “no question” the NCCIH is still not in compliance with the mandate.
“[Licensed providers of complementary therapies] are still a very small number on this advisory council,” Price said. “So on the one hand we need to celebrate the fact there are more of us than there have been, and at the same time, go, ‘We need more’—and so I think continued attention to that is really important.”
Previously, massage therapist and researcher Janet Kahn, Ph.D., was appointed to a four-year term on the advisory council of NCCAM in 2010. In 2011 Kahn was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative Public Health, and she still holds that position. (Kahn is also a former MASSAGE Magazine columnist and contributor.)
Toward the Future
According to Price, the massage field currently has a paucity of people involved in the level of massage research that might receive funding from a National Institutes of Health center, although some gains are being made.
“We do need more people who have trained to do research and can engage in these processes,” she said. “We are slowly growing that end of our profession, those folks who have that training, but it’s really slow.”
Health care professionals working in other disciplines, such as physiology and physical therapy, are conducting some of the research on massage currently, Price added, and that research is focused primarily on mechanisms. “But the pilot studies, the intervention studies, they aren’t as apt to do that; those are more apt to come from people in our field or from people who are somehow interested in those questions.”
There is no question that research is needed, Shurtleff said, adding that with the public and medical field’s growing interest in alternatives to Western medicine, this is a “very exciting” time to be involved in complementary and integrative health, as, he said, “it’s becoming part of mainstream medicine.”
Given the interest and movement toward integrative health, Price said, “It is important that we have more studies to examine the effectiveness of massage and bodywork for various health conditions.”
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her recent articles for massagemag.com include “Getting to the Heart of Prejudice in Health Care,” “Massage Envy Launches Plan for Global Domination” and “Can Massage Help Combat the Opioid Epidemic?”