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[BEIJING] China has for the first time included research on traditional medicine in its National Basic Research Programme (also called 973 Programme), signifying that it has been recognised among China's most fundamental fields of research.

The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) reported on its website yesterday (21 July) that, under the 973 Programme, it will invest 52 million yuan (US$6.4 million) between 2005 and 2006 to support basic research into traditional medicine.

There will be three sub-projects focusing on herbal medicine prescriptions, using modern science to study traditional medicine, and research into acupuncture and Jingluo — a traditional classification of 'channels' connecting different parts of the body, which combines the nervous and blood systems.

Cheng Jinpei, vice-minister of science and technology, said on 15 July that the variety of remedies and of branches of traditional medicine, meant that long-term research had failed to draw many scientific conclusions about it.

By including traditional medicine in the 973 Programme, the government would support systematic research into its central theories, said Cheng.

A customer shopping for traditional medicine in
Photo credit: Jia Hepeng

According to sources quoted by the Beijing Evening News, the evaluation committee could not decide whether to include traditional medicine in the 973 Programme, but senior officials at MOST encouraged them to do so.

It is not yet clear how many institutions the 973 Programme's traditional medicine project will fund.

In May, Yang Xiuwei, a professor of pharmacology at Peking University, told SciDev.Net that the long-term practice of sharing funding among many institutions could hinder scientific research in such a complicated area as traditional medicine.

"The government has invested a lot of money in research on traditional medicine but it was divided among many institutes, meaning none of them had enough to implement a major research project," said Yang.

According to the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, between 2000 and 2004 China spent US$966 million researching, preserving and improving education about TCM.

The 973 Programme is China's on-going programme for funding basic research. Approved by the Chinese government in June 1997, it is organised and implemented by MOST.

According to MOST, between 2005 and 2006, 54 fields of research will receive a total of US$185 million from the programme. The research subjects include genetically modified crops, sustainable energy, climate change, therapeutic cloning and research into major diseases such as HIV/AIDS and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

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