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New Funding Initiatives on “Phased Innovation Award for Mechanistic Studies to Optimize Mind and Body Interventions”

October 16, 2015
Wen G. Chen, Ph.D.
Wen G. Chen, Ph.D.

Program Director, Division of Extramural Research
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View Dr. Chen's biographical sketch

NCCIH has recently published two Requests for Applications (RFAs):

These RFAs represent NCCIH’s new funding mechanisms to direct research attention toward investigating the mechanisms by which mind and body interventions might work, as well as strategies to optimize these interventions. Such interventions typically include meditation, spinal manipulation, massage, yoga, tai chi, hypnosis, and acupuncture. 

You may wonder why it’s important to study the mechanisms or biological processes by which mind and body interventions work. Isn’t it enough to figure out if they work or not? A major challenge for mind and body interventions has been the relative lack of compelling efficacy and effectiveness evidence for specific medical conditions. For those interventions for which we have anecdotal or sporadic information, the effects are typically small or modest at best. Often, we have difficulty in determining if the interventions are substantially better than placebo effects.

In addition, it is particularly challenging to study the effects of mind and body interventions on chronic medical conditions due to their complexity. For example, most mind and body interventions not only engage multiple components of the nervous systems, such as the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves, but also can impact the associated musculoskeletal system, internal organs, or vascular and endocrine systems directly through nerve regulations by somatosensory, motor, vagus, cranial, or other autonomic nervous systems, or indirectly through the circulation of blood. Similarly, most diseases and disorders, especially the chronic types of conditions, typically have deleterious changes in multiple pathways, or biological and physiological systems. Identifying a suitable match between the mechanisms or processes by which a mind and body intervention works and the pathophysiological mechanisms of a chronic condition or an intended clinical outcome could potentially improve the benefits of such an intervention substantially. 

Mechanistic studies of mind and body interventions also offer an opportunity for further improvement or enhancement of the interventions per se. One strategy may focus on the intervention itself, with an effort to identify and enhance the active component(s) that may have the highest impact on the presumed mechanisms or processes while trimming down the component(s) with adverse effects or no impact. Another strategy is to consider other types of interventions, such as pharmacologic therapies, natural products, or devices that may impact the same mechanisms or processes of the targeted mind and body intervention. It is conceivable that combining an intervention that could influence the same mechanisms or processes of a physiological or pathological system could generate synergistic benefits—consequently offering an integrative approach to optimize the original effects of the mind and body intervention. There may be many other innovative strategies to utilize the mechanistic understandings in order to optimize mind and body interventions. The bottom line is that we hope to encourage more mechanistic investigations of mind and body interventions with a clear, ultimate goal and an executable plan to make them work better at the beginning of the study.

Join us for a Pre-Application Webinar on Wednesday, October 28, at 2 p.m. ET. The two RFAs represent a new undertaking at NCCIH. In order to help investigators better understand what NCCIH is looking for and to suggest some ideas and strategies to maximize your chance of a successful application, we will be hosting the webinar to introduce the RFAs. You will be able to ask questions during the Q & A portion of the webinar. Register at

Thank you for your interest in these new and exciting areas of science. I look forward to your participation at the upcoming webinar.

Update (11/16/15): Webinar summary is available online now.


Comments are now closed for this post.

Dr. Chen,I appreciate that NCIHH is providing this opportunity to address research on the mechanisms that support mind body interventions.  However, within this category there are systems, approches and then there are techniques. I am a Board Certified Master’s prepared Holistic Nurse with over 45 years of identifying individualized and integrated plans of care  for many different poulations of patients and clients.  These integrative plans support the holistic view of a person and therefore encompass a wide variety of traditional as well as integrated mind and body approaches. You identify some of the difficulties involved in researching mind/body interventions.What I have found is that a major factor in influencing the results of any study in mind/body apporaches is the skill, knowledge, experience and the individual alignment of the provider of the approach. Trying to focus only on a specific technique or modality such as the ones you mention, is a separate study only AFTER studying what is it about the provider that may make a difference in the outcome from the use of a system or technical approach?  I have not used the word “intervention” since with many mind body approcahes there are  NO interventions only facilitation.  All mind body appoaches are based on the SAME underlying theories and concepts.  The differences are “who” is facilitating and is there a similar skill competency in the facilitator.Another factor is that each subject, regardless of randomness, constitute such individualized and idiosyncratic physical, mental, emotional and environmental interactions that finding enough “same” subjects is difficult.I believe that initial studies need to be focused first on studying the providers and then looking at specific techniques only after the provider issues have been determined.Based on the above description studies focusing on the provider as a crucial factor in ouitcomes would not fit into these RFAs.What would allow for provider studies to occur?Again, I appreciate the opportunity to voice my comments.Thank you,Jalma Marcus RN, BS, MS, HNB-BC, CBP, AT, CLSE, and Provider of Reiki, IET, NET, and Indigenous healing

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Please, note that the link you provide for registering for this webinar is broken.Please,advise on that; thank you  

Greetings! Quick brief 2-question:
Are forein, for-profit, entities eligible, à la open-box DARPA solicitations, or would these not even get past first-base. Or, if you offer an open field will these encounter considerable, say, unworthwhile, bureaucratic hoop-jumping?

I am busy designing a clinical study where early diagnosed pancreas cancer patients will be given a special fraction of an extract from the plant Sutherlandia frutescens (There are NCAM studies on this plant). I am doing this because 20 years ago I was referred to an ex-pancreas cancer patient who had been diagnosed with pancreas cancer at the Tygerberg Hospital (TBH) in Bellville, Cape, South Africa, by Prof B Warren, Head of Surgery. The patient lost 20 kg in body mass and was given a few stents to drain the gall bladder into the duodenum and was sent home to die. He decided to try self-medication and after 45 days felt so good he went back to work as a deep-sea fisherman. I referred him back to TBH hospital where numerous tests including CT-scan could find no trace of cancer. The patient told me emphatically that it was not only the plant extract that had healed him but also fervent prayer. I am considering how I could cover this aspect of apparent mind and body synergistic effect in the trial I am designing. The hypothesis could be that the plant extract contributes special metabolites that could affect transcription while the mind in a prayer-mode could in some way do the same and that the two sets of gene activation (plant and mind) could act synergistically to bring about apoptosis of pancreatic cancer cells leading to a complete cure. (Check Sutherlandia in Pubmed. I wrote a Review article with Ben-Erik van Wyk and this has now received 50 citations).

Kindly advice me if this studies applies to other interventions like (wet cuppping) and if this can apply to researchers from the Middle East.I am working in the NCCAM,MOH, Saudi Arabia

I am new to research and funding.  I am not available Wednesday to participate.  Will the webinar be saved for future viewing?  Thank you.

Will this webinar be recorded for those of us unable to attend?  Thanks!

I am a massage therapist and a spinal reflex therapist in woodbridge virginia.  i am interested in doing a research study on the effects of Spinal Reflex therapy and PTSD/either headaches/or back pain.  Spinal Reflex Therapy is a soft tissue protocol that addresses the most prevalent cause of nerve, muscle and joint pain and dysfunction call the Spondlyogenic Reflex Syndrome.   I need a guide or talk to someone in reference to getting this research started and maybe a grant. I have treated 2 clients with PTSD and really want to get this research started.

I’m sorry I missed this webinar.  Is it archived?Vet TRIIP is a 501c3 tax exempt organizations which provides Integrative Immersion Process (IIP) Sessions for veterans, service members and their families living with Post-Traumatic Stress and chronic pain.  Survey results over the past four years (3000+ individual sessions) have report good to excellent benefits.  How can we partcipate in this grant program?

Hello , Thank you for informative webinar .i am looking for a PI and support in any form for the research project I have been designing and conducting for 3 years on the effect of Dance and a combination of manipulative therapies( massage, CranioSacral Th, Lymph Drainage Th and Visceral manipulations) on Post traumatic stress in patients with malignancies . I’m working with cancer patients and survivors in Memphis, TN .I am a massage therapist ,a breast cancer survivor for 7 years, and I have an MD with specialty in PM&Rehabilitation. 

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