Despite hundreds of clinical and mechanistic studies in acupuncture, the fundamental tenets of acupuncture - the point and meridian - are poorly understood. According to conventional wisdom within the acupuncture community, these structures are special conduits for electrical signals. This claim is supported by studies that report higher electrical conductivity (lower resistance/impedance) at acupuncture points compared to non-acupuncture points. However, the absence of an anatomic and physiologic explanation has undermined the credibility of this view. Now, robust evidence linking connective tissue to acupuncture structures has changed the research landscape and offers a new testable hypothesis: Electrical conduction through loose connective tissue is responsible for communication through the acupuncture network. This application proposes three goals to test this hypothesis; to examine the electrical properties of loose connective tissue, to study acupuncture's effect on these electrical properties, and to study the underlying biophysics to identify any clinically relevant mechanisms. A pilot study conducted by the candidate indicates that electrical impedance of connective tissue associated with Pericardium Meridian is significantly lower compared to parallel muscle-control tissue. To further test the hypothesis, this K-23 application has 3 specific aims : (1) to determine whether electrical impedances of three other meridian-associated connective tissue are lower compared to parallel controls; (2) to examine how needling an acupuncture point affects the electrical impedance of the corresponding meridian; (3) to study the in-vivo dielectric properties of loose connective tissue. The first 2 aims will be addressed by utilizing an impedance meter and testing subjects within the general clinical research center of a large, referral hospital.
Aim 3 will use sophisticated machinery within a large academic university (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The goal of these studies is to elucidate the physiologic functions of acupuncture points and meridians to help understand acupuncture's clinical effects and thereby promote treatment optimization. Completion of this research is supported by three essential components: (1) A core of highly skilled mentors in connective tissue, biomechanical engineering, East Asian medicines, and clinical research methodology; (2) coursework at MIT to expand the candidate's knowledge in connective tissue and biophysics; (3) a rich research environment offered by the combined resources of MIT and Harvard Medical School that will promote the candidate's present and .future investigations. This K-23 application will provide the candidate with specific training in biophysics, connective tissue, and clinical trials. Each of these skills will be critical to the candidate's long-term goal of becoming an independent clinical investigator with a focus on the biophysics of acupuncture.
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