As China embraces modernity, traditional Chinese medicine is being accused of pseudoscience, reports Jane Qiu in this Nature article (12 July).
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on the symptoms of a disease, tailoring treatments to the patient. But Western medicine focuses on the physiological cause, testing potential drugs in randomised, controlled trials.
Pharmaceutical companies are interested in traditional Chinese medicine but take a typically Western approach — trying to identify the active ingredients of traditional herbal treatments.
But these mixtures contain many chemicals that govern a myriad of interactions with each other and the body. This is where systems biology steps in.
A buzzing field of Western research, systems biology attempts to understand function by studying the interactions between components. Scientists are investigating genes, proteins and metabolites to pinpoint metabolic pathways affected by the Chinese herbs.
But merging these different holistic approaches will also entail bridging a cultural gap between East and West.