August 4, 2014

Acupuncture Research lecture at UPENN

A strong presence and a plush accent dusted with the remains of her worldly travel are only a few of the stunning attributes that made Dr. Claudia Witt’s recent lecture stand above the fray. She came to the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine to inform us that Acupuncture combined with Primary Care has brought about a “new era in Conventional Medicine.” The research is being done, getting funded and people are getting much better with the combination of the two worlds of care.


As a guest of our Integrative Medicine Pioneer, MD and Acupuncture physician here at Penn Jun Mao, Dr. Claudia Witt talked to us about Acupuncture Research around the world and how it’s infusing the practice of Acupuncture medicine at home and abroad.

Currently a resident of Switzerland where acupuncture is covered by insurance when practiced by a Medical doctor, Witt describes the large variety of regulations that swirl through Acupuncture practice. It all relies on one factor, how much has been proven and among how large of a sample size it has been proven with.

Simply put, we need more people recruited for the studies, more funding for more research studies to be conducted to continue to prove the multitude of benefits that people are experiencing with this penetrating practice of Acupuncture medicine.

Witt says regarding increasing the size of the population these studies are conducted on, “Often it is a cultural issue. During a clinic holding pediatric acupuncture research, to see a room filled with children with a lot of needles sticking out of their heads, for some cultures this would be strange, but not for others. It has been difficult to recruit for these studies. Large sample sizes in the US are needed to ramp up the research. It’s mostly small scale studies that have taken place thus far as opposed to the Meta analysis coming out of other countries.”

Most people I know have had a good experience with acupuncture. For them, that is the proof. It makes them feel better, that proves that it works. However this will not help to get Acupuncture practitioners paid as they deserve insurance companies to reimburse so patients can get more acupuncture, research studies funded, or other physicians to refer their patients for treatments. In China Acupuncture is free and you can get as much as you need.

Research on preventing disease, Immunology research, measuring Qi and functional imaging to prove pain (possibly through PET) were among the topics that were discussed among the viewers. According to Witt, prevention research may be taking place in China; however in the US this would be a costly endeavor considering the long term observation that would be required.

For tension headaches (HA) research shows that needling points do not matter. “No matter where you put the needle, the headaches get better” says Witt. Sham research, needling points and mechanisms such as turning the needle and making deeper skin penetration (always done in China- “I beg for the western style Acupuncture when I am in China because it is quite painful,”) as well as trigger point acupuncture (palpating points to find pain and find the points) are huge topics amongst researchers and Acupuncturists.



Placebo always has to be considered. According to Witt this is one of the largest areas of research going on right now, Placebo research. An individual’s expectation of a treatment to work and make them feel better, has seen to impact patients with chronic pain, who are receiving acupuncture treatments.

Patient- Doctor Interaction’s research in Zurich showed that it mattered more the type of relationship that was being developed between patient and doctor, than the treatments themselves. Studies on arthritis, tension headaches, migraines, pain, Bells-Palsy are among what we have currently published in JAMA, Lancet and Journal of Clinical Oncology. Stronger needle stimulation was seen to help for Bells-Palsy. Mao recently published research for those suffering from the side effects of breast cancer treatment. Breast cancer Surgical Oncologist, Dr. Brian Czerniecki is referring his patients to Mao for acupuncture since the recently published study came out. “He’s been sending his patients more and more for Acupuncture” Says NP of Czerniecki.

One topic I meant to bring up was the use of pulsation. Monitoring the pulse to determine diagnosis and treatment is practiced among one fully trained pulsation practitioner that I know of in Philadelphia, but also by other Acupuncturists on a smaller scale. According to Witt, “Diagnosing and individualized care is not showing much evidence to make a difference e.” The Acupuncturist at Five Virtues mixes her own herbal formulas and went through specialized Chinese medicine training to do so. “If we use fixed formulas, standard care for everyone we are no better than western medicine.” Five Virtues Acupuncturist sees a remarkable difference in her patients when treating with emphasis on diagnosis and individualized treatments. Fixed formulas and standardized care vs. individualized care have not yielded much research, as of yet. Another Acupuncturist working out of Society Hill says, “The standard formulas have shown to be very beneficial for my clients. I use them and pulse points to approach the types of treatments I deliver.”

Witt conducts both Clinical Research and experimental research while also practicing Acupuncture medicine in Switzerland, where Acupuncture is covered by insurance if the practitioner is also a Medical Doctor. We hope she will come back and keep talking to us. I will be assisting flood Jun Mao with patients for his two active research studies on breathing and pain, taking place at Penn’s Perelman Center.

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