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NCCAM Marks 5 Years, Plans for Next 5

By Catherine Law and Michelle Bolek

With a look at the past and an eye to the future, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine recently celebrated its fifth anniversary by launching its second 5-year strategic planning effort. The announcement, made at the Jan. 30 meeting of the center's advisory council, marked the start of a year-long planning effort that invites the involvement of the public, researchers, health care professionals, NCCAM staff, NIH colleagues and others with an interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research.

Dr. Stephen Straus, NCCAM director, announced the strategic planning effort during his annual state of the center address, which served not only as a retrospective of the 5 years since NCCAM's establishment, but also as an invitation to help chart the center's future. Straus recounted the role the center has played in creating a strong foundation for rigorous scientific CAM research and the importance of collaborations with other NIH components.

NCCAM director Dr. Stephen Straus and deputy director Dr. Margaret Chesney celebrate the center's first 5 years.

"As an NIH center," said Straus, "we have been responsive to our mission, mindful of the resources committed to us, and have been fully integrated into the NIH. NCCAM has changed the dialogue about what's possible and important in CAM research."

Straus discussed NCCAM's science portfolio, which now includes more than 300 projects, ranging from basic research using powerful brain imaging techniques to help understand how acupuncture works, to the largest-ever, placebo-controlled clinical trials of popular dietary supplements such as glucosamine for degenerative arthritis and Ginkgo biloba for dementia.

"Most importantly," he pointed out, "a body of data is emerging from NCCAM's investments in research that is informing public policy and helping guide practices."

NCCAM's mission — to explore CAM in the context of rigorous science, train researchers and disseminate information — has been guided to date by its first strategic plan, Expanding Horizons of Healthcare. In developing the first plan, NCCAM staff of about 12 at the time cast a broad net to identify scientific priorities. The document focused on a vision and goals to help lay a much-needed infrastructure for CAM research. That infrastructure developed successfully into an intramural program on campus, research centers across the country and groundwork for international collaborations.

Now, with 5 years of experience and about 90 staffers, the center is ready for the next phase of planning. NCCAM seeks guidance in refining its goals and identifying areas in which its investments can have the greatest impact. The center is committed to providing opportunities for stakeholders to contribute to the planning process.

NCCAM will host two strategic planning stakeholder forums to give the public an opportunity to voice opinions about future directions for research, training, outreach and integration in CAM. The forums will be held on Monday, Mar. 22 at the Natcher Conference Center and Monday, Apr. 19 in Seattle. To learn more, to register to attend or speak, or to submit written testimony about NCCAM's future directions, visit Comment on the draft strategic plan, which will be posted on the NCCAM web site in fall 2004, is also invited.

"Maintaining an open and objective approach to CAM research and disseminating those research results to our stakeholders continue to be our primary goals," said Straus. "We are particularly interested in hearing our stakeholders' views regarding future directions for CAM research to aid us in making the most effective use of the resources that Americans have entrusted to us."

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