Universiteit Leiden

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How western and Chinese medicine can strengthen each other

Personalised healthcare could be the answer to insufficient treatment of chronically ill people. Therefore, PhD Junzeng Fu tries to predict the response of a patient to a drug. Strikingly, she combines western medicine with Chinese medicine diagnosis. Promotion Tuesday 21 February.

West meets East

While Western medicine focuses on scientific research, Chinese medicine relies on centuries of empirical results. PhD candidate Fu from the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research devoted her research to combine these two different approaches. Her goal: finding predictors for the response of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients to a drug. ‘Western and Chinese medicine have different perspectives on diagnosis, that’s why they can be highly complementary to each other’, says Fu.

Western style

Doctors can prescribe medicines more efficiently when there are proper models that predict how effective a medicine is on an individual level. In line with western medicine, Fu applied metabolomics to determine such predictors. ‘In metabolomics you look at small molecules in your body called metabolites. For instance, when you eat cake, the glucose level in your blood will rise. You can measure glucose as a metabolite. Metabolomics look at hundreds and thousands of metabolites’, says Fu. ‘In this research, we used a statistical model called regression model to investigate any possible associations between the metabolites and the drug response. With this method we found four metabolites that might predict the drug response of a RA patient.’

Chinese questionnaire

In addition to the western method, Fu focused on Chinese medicine – a method based on empirical results. ‘We know that certain Chinese medicines work, but it often remains unknown how’, Fu explains. ‘We used a questionnaire to diagnose patients, just as in Chinese medicine. With the help of a Chinese doctor, we tried to link certain symptoms in the questionnaire to the patient’s response to certain medicines.’ Fu found two symptoms as potential predictors for drug responses: whether the patient’s tendons are weak and whether the patients like warm food, according to the definitions of Chinese nutrition.

Struggles

‘The biggest challenge in this research was to eliminate any factors that disrupt the data, such as the fact that some patients take multiple medicines, says Fu. ‘But that is what I liked about the project too, the challenges.’ Another challenge was the questionnaire: ‘We experienced that some questions were not suited for people from western cultures. We will therefore work on the further adjustment of the questionnaire. Although this research did not yet result in a significantly improved model by combining Chinese medicine defined symptoms, we believe that with an adjusted questionnaire we can show the value of combining Chinese with western medicine.’