For this SBM Outlook article, we interviewed three CAIM SIG members from across the career continuum whose interests include mind-body interventions and working with cancer patients. Given the increasing popularity of mind-body approaches for managing symptoms and optimizing wellbeing across a variety of patient populations, we hope that SBM members both within and outside the CAIM SIG will find our interviewees’ responses elucidating and applicable to their own research. For space, select responses are paraphrased.
Margaret A. Chesney, PhD is a Professor of Medicine at UCSF. She is the former Director of the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and prior Deputy Director of NCCIH, which brought her in close touch with integrative oncology.
Kristen E. Riley, PhD is a T32 postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Emily R. Friedman, BA is a clinical research and program coordinator at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where she works on behavioral health and psycho-oncology trials for patients and their families.
How did you become interested in mind-body approaches for oncology patients?
Riley: I conducted yoga intervention research under the mentorship of Crystal Park at the University of Connecticut. I realized that mind-body approaches, including yoga and mindfulness, offer similar effectiveness as stress management interventions, but were more desired by patients and had higher attendance, which has important implications for dissemination.
Friedman: I was introduced to mind-body medicine in the context of cancer care as an intern at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at MGH. I have come to understand that the most effective way to support health and wellness is to employ a biopsychosocial model of care that grounds [cancer] within a spiritual, familial, emotional, and cultural context – a model which I’ve found integrative medicine to employ.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing young investigators in integrative oncology?
Riley: Some medical professionals and psychologists consider integrative medicine as "fringe" science, because it is still a burgeoning field, and has not traditionally had enough research funding for large clinical trials (though that is now changing). This perception can be harmful for young investigators' careers, because more "mainstream" or "fundable" areas of research may be considered more desirable on the job market.
Chesney: Obtaining research funding. Our field has focused on training the next generation but the available funding may not be sufficient to support everyone, particularly for researchers relying entirely on grant funding.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for young investigators in integrative oncology?
Chesney: This will take some political action, which the integrative medicine and health field is taking on. That is, applying pressure to public health and the healthcare industry to translate successful behavioral medicine programs from research into practice. This will generate career opportunities for behavioral medicine in primary cancer prevention, coping with cancer treatment, and maintaining optimal wellness while living beyond cancer. Look for opportunities outside of academia, including those in larger health systems… [involving] intervention, program design and evaluation, health services research, and new models moving care from medical centers to the community, using new technologies, etc.
What advice do you have for investigators seeking funding for research in integrative oncology?
Chesney: Continue to engage NIH program staff in SBM and encourage SBM leadership to actively support NCI, NCCIH, OBSSR and other institutes. Collaborate with other organizations such as APS, APHA, the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health to press not only for research funds but for changes in healthcare to cover behavioral interventions, including mind-body, body-mind, and “anti-cancer living.”
Riley: Reach out to investigators who have been funded through NCCIH and other CAM funding mechanisms for advice and guidance; senior faculty in this area tend to be very excited and passionate about this research and the field.