Delving into Open Science, Meta-Research and AI in Integrative Medicine: A Conversation with Dr. Jeremy Y. Ng at the 2024 ICIMH

At the 2024 International Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health, Dr. Jeremy Y. Ng, Editorial Board Member for BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, shares his impressions from the congress, and insights into open science, meta-research, and artificial intelligence. 

What was your International Congress for Integrative Medicine and Health 2024 highlight?

Attending the International Congress for Integrative Medicine and Health 2024 was a valuable experience. I am incredibly fortunate to have been a researcher in this field for over a decade now, and during this time I have built many professional relationships and collaborations internationally. I think many would agree that this conference provided all of us in this community with a great opportunity to reconnect in person with likeminded friends who live on different continents. The sense of camaraderie and shared commitment to advancing traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine (TCIM) makes these gatherings particularly meaningful.

Were there any talks that piqued your interest?

The session titled “NIH Open Access Repositories: How Can They Be Leveraged to Advance Whole Person Health Research?” was of particular interest to me. This session focused on the recent efforts by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to promote open science through the 2023 Data Management and Sharing Policy, highlighting several open access repositories. The session provided an insightful overview of the various repositories, such as those integrating data on anatomy, histology, physiology, and computational modeling to advance our understanding of peripheral organ systems. Another talk discussed a platform that strengthens knowledge of the biological basis of acupoints, which is crucial for integrating acupuncture into clinical care. Additionally, there was an engaging discussion on a database for noninvasive neuroimaging and how these repositories collectively contribute to understanding whole person health. As someone who is deeply interested in open science and who sees its value, I was glad to see that work in this area is being furthered by the NIH, and in particular, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

What do you think is an aspect of traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine that is currently being overlooked by the community?

One aspect of TCIM that I believe is currently being overlooked by the community is the value of open science and meta-research. These practices hold serious potential for advancing the field of TCIM, yet in my view, they remain underutilized.

Open science practices, such as study registration, adherence to reporting guidelines, data sharing, preprinting, and open access publishing, can greatly benefit our field of TCIM research. These practices improve research quality, increase public trust, accelerate innovation, and enhance evidence-based decision-making. Despite the growing acceptance of open science in broader medical research, its application in TCIM research has to date been limited in both understanding and application.

Embracing open science can transform the development, dissemination, and implementation of evidence based TCIM, leading to more robust and transparent research outcomes. Similarly, meta-research—or the study of research itself—offers a crucial opportunity to evaluate and improve the quality of TCIM research. Key areas of focus include study design, research methodology, reporting guidelines, research ethics, reproducibility/replicability, peer review practices, and funding. By systematically examining these aspects through meta-research initiatives we can maintain public trust, safeguard research integrity, and advance evidence based TCIM practices.

It must also be acknowledged that challenges associated with implementing open science and meta-research exist, such as data privacy concerns, limited resources, and respect for traditional knowledge. I believe these challenges are not insurmountable, however, as strategies such as ethical guidelines, education programs, funding advocacy, interdisciplinary dialogue, and patient engagement can each help to overcome these obstacles.

How do you feel publishing can better support the field of traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine?

Publishing can better support the field of TCIM by also adopting open science and meta-research practices. These approaches are not limited to just researchers and their research; publishers can—and, in my view, should—play a crucial role in their implementation and promotion.

Open access publishing is essential for making research findings widely accessible. Open access journals promote transparency and inclusivity by ensuring that research is freely available, which aligns well with the patient-centered and holistic approach of TCIM. This accessibility benefits patients, healthcare providers, and the broader scientific community, who may not have the means to afford research held behind a subscription paywall.

However, the open access model also has its challenges, such as the risk of low-quality journals that inadequately vet the contents of manuscript submissions and exploit the model for financial gain by charging high article processing fees.

More generally speaking, open access comprises a small portion of open science. I recently conducted an audit of open science practices among TCIM journals; our findings would suggest that TCIM journals provide minimal guidelines to encourage or require authors to adhere to open science practices and there is an opportunity to improve the use of open science practices in the field.

Moreover, peer review and journal editorial practices are critical for maintaining the quality and integrity of research publications. Meta-research can evaluate and improve the effectiveness and reliability of peer review processes and editorial practices in TCIM journals. This involves examining the transparency of peer review procedures, the expertise of reviewers, and the consistency of editorial decision-making. Identifying and addressing potential biases, conflicts of interest, and inefficiencies in these areas can enhance the robustness and credibility of TCIM research publications.

By promoting transparency, accountability, and high standards in peer review and editorial practices, publishers can help uphold research rigour and foster greater trust in TCIM research dissemination. Implementing open science practices, such as study registration, adherence to reporting guidelines, data sharing, and preprinting, further supports these goals by improving research quality and increasing public trust.

Emerging fields and topics in of traditional, complementary, and integrative that we should keep an eye out on?

While not directly related to TCIM itself, over recent years one field that the world has seen to be leading in innovation is artificial intelligence (AI). Like any other medical field, it is inevitable that AI is going to have large impacts on the field of TCIM, and its convergence represents a promising frontier in healthcare. AI technologies have the potential to enhance TCIM by facilitating data-driven decision-making and personalized treatment plans. This alignment can potentially improve patient outcomes, enhance care quality, and promote holistic wellness.

AI has already been proposed to augment TCIM in several ways. Such as potentially assisting in early disease detection, potentially providing personalized treatment plans, predicting health trends, and enhancing patient engagement. We are already beginning to see some of this come to fruition in real time. For instance, AI algorithms have the potential to analyze vast amounts of data from various sources, identifying patterns and insights that might not be apparent through traditional methods. This has the potential to lead to more accurate diagnoses and more effective, individualized treatment strategies.

All things considered, I remain cautious about the integration of AI into TCIM as it also presents several challenges. Ensuring data privacy and security is paramount, as is navigating the complex regulatory landscape surrounding AI in healthcare. Especially pertinent to many TCIM practitioners, maintaining the human touch in patient-provider relationships is crucial, and I think many would argue that AI should complement rather than replace the personal interactions that are central to TCIM modalities. Additionally, mitigating bias in AI algorithms is essential to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all patients. Addressing the associated challenges and fostering collaboration between AI experts, TCIM practitioners, and policymakers will be vital to harnessing the full potential of this intersection of fields.

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