The World of Research at Bastyr University

Friday, September 11, 2015

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Bastyr University continues to be a major contributor to research in the complementary and integrative medicine field.
Dr. Paul Amieux in a lab at the Bastyr Research Institute.

The moment that Paul Amieux, PhD, walked into his first biochemistry lab, he felt right at home. “It was the only place I wanted to be,” he says, “and I would spend hours and hours just ‘geeking out’ in the lab.”

This passion for research continued throughout his graduate education at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and serves him today in his new role as administrative director for the Bastyr University Research Institute. His enthusiasm has also proved integral in working to “bridge the worlds of basic science and clinical medicine,” which is what Dr. Amieux calls one of the most important goals of research.

“I’ve spent many years working as a part of research centers that brought basic scientists together with clinicians, so that we could develop a more mutual understanding and better align our perspectives. This is something that continues to be a challenging but critical goal.”

Throughout his career, Dr. Amieux began to identify another key concept he saw as essential to progress in the world of research: communication. “Communicating to the public, in meaningful and clear terms, the value of research and evidence-based medicine has become a personal mission of my own during the last 25 years that I have been involved in science.”

This drive to share research and evidence-based medicine also serves as a larger opportunity — one where Dr. Amieux believes that Bastyr University can lead the way.

Dr. Amieux’s modest demeanor belies the extent of this work, which includes publishing extensively in major peer-reviewed journals; receiving significant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and reviewing grants for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute Small Grant Research Review Panel, the Institute for Translational Health Sciences, UW Royalty Research Fund Awards, the Journal of Neurochemistry, the Journal of Clinical Pathology, the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Neuroscience and Molecular Endocrinology.

The scope of what Dr. Amieux oversees as administrative director is equally ambitious, and includes supervision and organization of the Bastyr Clinical Research Center, development of external grant funding, organization of an annual research conference, and awarding funding for faculty and student research projects — among other roles.

We recently sat down with him to learn more about this very exciting time in the world of research at Bastyr University.

What is it about research at Bastyr that’s unique?

“I believe that from the outset, Bastyr University’s perspective on research is broader and more open to investigation in areas that traditional medical schools and research institutes might consider unusual or outside of the norm. This doesn’t mean that we won’t be subjected to the same rigorous critiques of the data and analyses we present, but it does mean that some of the questions we go after are, at least in the beginning, not considered ‘mainstream.’ However — and let me be clear — this is changing rapidly as more and more major research universities and institutions take on questions that would traditionally be considered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).  I think the real challenge for Bastyr research is to remain focused on our mission as we continue develop our research program in collaboration with major research institutions such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington, the University of California, San Diego, the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and others.”

Why is research such an important part of higher education?  

“Research allows faculty to maintain and inform both their teaching and mentoring activities by keeping them up-to-date with current and cutting-edge science in their fields. Without research, our teaching begins to drift away from what’s happening at the forefront of our respective fields, and I believe anyone who has taught for a while without participating in research has experienced a sense of separation from the more active parts of the field.

“Without research, learning becomes static in the sense that you trust at face value what is presented in textbooks. Anyone who has done years of research in a particular field is exquisitely aware that textbooks can have inaccuracies, and that new findings may make some content actually obsolete.”

Which would make it especially important for students to have access to, or to be a part of active research at their university…

“Yes, requiring students to engage in critical thinking and embrace the scientific method and evidence-based science and medicine ensures that they are learning to evaluate anything presented to them with good critical thinking skills. In simpler terms, just because something is in a textbook does not make it necessarily true; students must learn to evaluate evidence and make decisions from that perspective. Graduating students with excellent critical thinking skills who incorporate evidence-based medicine into their careers and practices will only serve to enhance Bastyr’s reputation as a leader in integrative medicine and health care.”

Can you share with us some of the exciting work that Bastyr research scientists are currently working on?

“The range of interests and expertise at Bastyr is broad, so I am only giving a few examples here.

“There are several really interesting threads running through Bastyr’s research history, and I personally find it fascinating to go back and research that history to identify those themes. Bastyr has a long-running interest in cancer research and the application of CAM approaches to cancer treatment. Bastyr researchers such as Professor Leanna Standish have NIH- and foundation-funded studies examining lifespan and quality-of-life in individuals suffering from different types of cancer, and there is now a significant amount of data that have been collected which we should begin to see presented in research articles over the next few years.

“Additional NIH-funded studies have examined the use of natural products such as the turkey tail mushroom as integrative immunotherapies that can be combined with more traditional cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and immune-based therapies. Bastyr has produced a robust and significant literature in this area and the recent completion of an NIH-funded clinical trial in breast cancer patients means additional journal articles on this topic will be forthcoming.

“Another exciting area of focus at Bastyr is research on CAM in neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Laurie Mischley’s survey-based studies examining CAM use in people suffering from Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis are reaching the point where large amounts of data have been collected and will be ready for analysis in the near future. Dr. Mischley also has an exciting foundation-funded study examining the safety and efficacy of intranasal glutathione administration for Parkinson’s disease and the first publication from this project was published recently. This work is nicely complemented by Dr. Paola Costa-Mallen’s work on genetic factors in Parkinson’s and the role of iron, smoking and other lifestyle factors in susceptibility to and development of the disease.

“The Integrative Pain Management clinic at the University’s teaching clinic, Bastyr Center for Natural Health, has begun to collect survey-based data on CAM use in individuals suffering from chronic pain. The results from this initial study will help to determine which alternative and complementary medicine approaches are effective in the treatment of chronic pain. Given the fact that traditional medical approaches have had mixed results at best in dealing with many chronic conditions, Bastyr has the potential to contribute significantly to the development of novel approaches in the treatment of many chronic conditions.

“Bastyr has also devoted much attention to research on natural products, and more specifically the bioactive components of those products. Don Messner, PhD, and Lev Elson-Schwab, PhD, have been studying curcumin, one of the biologically active components in the spice turmeric. One of the most interesting activities of curcumin is its ability to bind free iron, and published work to date suggests that one of the means by which curcumin (and thereby turmeric) may affect health is through this mechanism.

Rebecca Achterman, PhD, a microbiologist by training whose research focus is on dermatophytes  (fungi that infect the skin), has preliminary data that suggest natural products like black walnut and garlic oils can inhibit the growth of dermatophytes in the epithelial layers of the skin.

“And finally, Kaleb Lund, PhD, and Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, LAc, FABNO, have recently finished a preliminary analysis of some of the bioactive components from the South American ayahuasca vine, used by specific Amazonian tribes for ritual purposes. This research is ongoing and could lead to clinical trials in the future.

“These are just a few examples but serve to highlight the diversity of research interests found at Bastyr.”

What are you most excited about for research at Bastyr in the next five years?

“I think there are several areas where we can be very excited. The fact that complementary and integrative medicine approaches are being evaluated scientifically by large research universities suggests that complementary and integrative medicine has become more mainstream, and much of what was once considered peripheral is now considered central. An example of this would be the many mind-body approaches, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, being used in clinical settings around the world.

“Bastyr has a long history of education and research in complementary and integrative medicine and I believe is uniquely poised to provide knowledge, insight, and skill not only to our students and to the community at large, as it already does — but also the nation as a whole.

“All of this relies on the quality of our scholarship, and as long as we maintain the highest possible standards with regard to research scholarship and ethics, Bastyr University can continue to be a major contributor to research in the complementary and integrative medicine field.”