From this week’s MIT Technology Review (the Biotech Update, biotch) comes news of progress in understanding the ancient field of acupuncture:
“Acupuncture has been shown to have some therapeutic effect, but we have an incomplete understanding of the basic science that supports it,” says Bruce Rosen, director of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, within the Harvard-MIT division of Health Sciences and Technology. Rosen and colleagues are part of a small number of scientists using brain-imaging techniques to understand what acupuncture does to the brain, as well as which characteristics, such as needle placement, are important for beneficial effects.
…The team has shown that acupuncture affects regions of the brain involved with sensory processing, as well as with cognitive and emotional processing. For example, Kathleen Hui, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Martinos team, has shown that acupuncture induces a characteristic activity pattern in the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures brain activation, scientists found that parts of the limbic system, a brain area involved in emotion, motivation, and memory, and parts of the cortex, involved in cognitive processing, seem to quiet down during acupuncture. These areas become active when a person is focused on performing a task, suggesting that acupuncture might affect some homeostatic mechanism involved in the brain’s resting state, says Rosen.
An interesting dilemma: researchers are having trouble designing a control group to test against the needle group (some data suggests it doesn’t matter where the needles go — fake pills are easier to pull off than fake needle insertions).
More from the Martinos Center…