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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been used within China for thousands of years. Comprising practices such as herbal pharmacology, acupuncture and massage, it is grounded in the belief that the body is a system of balance, with a vital energy (chi) circulating around it in channels. When there are imbalances in the body, disease ensues.
Within the Western world, TCM has predominantly been viewed as a complementary or alternative branch of medicine. Despite its many adherents – the World Health Organization estimates that 100 million Europeans use traditional medicines – the scientific community has tended to view it somewhat dismissively.
A 2007 Nature editorial, asking why the qualitative study of TCM had yielded so few cures, suggested: “the most obvious answer is that it actually has little to offer: it is largely just pseudoscience, with no rational mechanism of action for most of its therapies.”
However, as interest continues to surge, many researchers are seeking ways to bridge the gap between TCM and Western medicine. Currently valued at $121bn, the TCM market is growing fast, driven in part by pharma companies looking to investigate its benefits.