When a friend with limited English was diagnosed with cancer, Jeungwon Yoon, MS, DAOM (‘10), LAc, spent months accompanying him to treatments. Yoon devoted herself to studying the disease and enrolled in Bastyr University's Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program. Now she works at the East-West Cancer Center at Dunsan Oriental Hospital in Korea, researching integrative approaches to cancer care.
She spoke to us about some of the most exciting lines of inquiry she is pursuing.
How did you discover you wanted to study medicine and specialize in cancer research?
My father is a surgeon, my mother is a pharmacist and my brother is an Oriental medicine doctor, so joining the medical field was natural for me. I have great respect for the profession and have always felt that caring for patients lay in my life's path. For me it was only a matter of what kind of medicine to study.
A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer during the last year of my master's program in Oriental medicine at South Baylo University in California. Because he was not fluent in English, I went through the whole course of treatment with him, closely witnessing what cancer patients faced from the initial diagnosis to the end of treatment. Because cancer is a tough disease to cure, with many limitations and difficulties in conventional treatment, I thought there must be room for Oriental medicine to step in and help.
I read about Bastyr's Oriental medicine programs online. Once I learned about the DAOM program, I was writing my application in no time.
Why Oriental medicine?
I was drawn to the philosophy and humanity in Oriental medicine. Things are in constant change, and who we are today is different from who we were yesterday. The cold you have may be from the same virus as your neighbor’s cold, but the symptoms are different and the progression is different. Why? Because you two are different people. In Oriental medicine we respect that diversity when we treat patients.
What kind of work are you doing in Daejeon at the East-West Cancer Center?
The East-West Cancer Center was the first university hospital-based cancer clinic to open in Korea that incorporates both Oriental medicine and conventional medicine treatments. As a researcher, I study different Oriental medicine approaches for treating cancer, mostly through clinical research. I do research on managing cancer-related side effects, improving patient quality of life and directly targeting cancer using botanicals.
You've been investigating sweet bee venom — what's the interest in that?
Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a peripheral sensory and motor nerve damage caused by chemotherapy. It often causes pain and can limit a patient's use of their hands and feet. There are no established treatment protocols for CIPN, so we're looking at a purified bee venom extract mainly composed of a key component, melittin, with allergens removed. We have positive findings on acupuncture for CIPN patients and an in-vivo rat neuropathic pain study using sweet bee venom. Now we have conducted a CIPN study using sweet bee venom pharmacopuncture, an injection that combines pharmaceuticals and acupuncture. It shows an optimistic outcome warranting further investigations.
You also have an observational study on Oriental medicine treatments and immune-responses? What do you hope to find through that?
Keeping immune guards up is one of the crucial factors in cancer care. Not only does it help fight the cancer cells directly, but it also helps patients go through conventional cancer therapies on schedule with fewer side effects. Even when a patient is at the cancer-free or surveillance status, immunity is an important factor in preventing recurrences or metastases. Through the observation, we are trying to build up evidence-based data on the positive correlation between Oriental medicine treatments and improved immunity.
What are you learning about yourself and what's important to you through your work in Daejeon?
The more I study, research and teach in this setting, I feel that there are so many things that Oriental medicine can offer for any kind of diseases, especially those for which we have not yet found the cure. But we need to fit into the current evidence-based medicine standards. We have a long way to go before the public understands what we do and what we can offer.
We are not alone in this, though. Working here, I meet with professors, oncologists and researchers from top institutions around the world who are committed to integrative research together. I can see that this is happening rather fast! I am also learning a lot about the course of life in general, working closely with patients who are so grateful for each day given to them. That makes me feel grateful for what I have now and inspires me to move forward.
Learn more about studying acupuncture and Oriental medicine at Bastyr.