Medical Research

Acupuncture Research: Unexpected Contributions to Science

Kristen Sparrow • January 31, 2016

This paper outlines 5 contributions to science that came about directly from acupuncture research.Acupuncture Spin Offs 1.18.16

Research into acupuncture has had ripple effects beyond the field of acupuncture. This paper identifies five
exemplars to illustrate that there is tangible evidence of the way insights gleaned from acupuncture research
have informed biomedical research, practice, or policy. The first exemplar documents how early research into
acupuncture analgesia has expanded into neuroimaging research, broadening physiologic understanding and
treatment of chronic pain. The second describes how the acupuncture needle has become a tool to enhance
biomedical knowledge of connective tissue. The third exemplar, which illustrates use of a modified acupuncture
needle as a sham device, focuses on emergent understanding of placebo effects and, in turn, on insights into
therapeutic encounters in treatments unrelated to acupuncture. The fourth exemplar documents that two medical
devices now in widespread use were inspired by acupuncture: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators for
pain control and antinausea wrist bands. The final exemplar describes how pragmatic clinical trial designs
applied in acupuncture research have informed current general interest in comparative effectiveness research. In
conclusion, these exemplars of unanticipated outcomes of acupuncture research comprise an additional ratio-
nale for continued support of basic and clinical research evaluating acupuncture and other under-researched