Winnipeg s only graduate physician/acupuncturist providing research into how acupuncture works

by Bernie Bellan

Winnipeg Acupuncture research

Winnipeg s only graduate physician/acupuncturist providing research into how acupuncture works

In the short three years that Dr. Priscilla Kerr has been living in Winnipeg, she has made great strides in advancing the cause of acupuncture as a totally accepted adjunct to Western medical treatments for a wide variety of conditions.

Dr Kerr has a most accomplished resumé. Trained as a physician in her native Brazil (having graduated from The University of Santo Amaro Medical School in 2000), Dr. Kerr is also a recognized specialist in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (from the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine, in the Institute of Orthopedic and Traumatology).

In fact, Dr. Kerr has years of experience in both Western and Chinese medicine. Since her arrival her and the establishment of her practice in the Manitoba Clinic (where she is the first acupuncturist anywhere in the province working in a regular medical clinic), Dr. Kerr has been conducting ongoing studies of the effects of acupuncture.

According to Dr. Kerr, in Brazil only licensed medical physicians are allowed to engage in acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture is regarded as a specialty in Brazil in the same way as any other medical specialty, with a government requirement that any physician wanting to practice acupuncture must have studied at least two additional years, following their normal training as a physician. Dr. Kerr actually studied acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for a total of five years, specializing in Pain Management. From February 2004 – December 2006, Dr. Kerr was a supervisor teacher of a Specialized Course in acupuncture for doctors. In 2006 Dr. Kerr opened her own business in Sao Paulo: Integrare Health Centre.

In Manitoba, by way of contrast, Dr. Kerr says “there are no specific rules” that govern who may or may not be allowed to practice acupuncture. At the present time Dr. Kerr is working with other experienced acupuncturists in an effort to bring a regulatory system into place that will determine who will be allowed to practice acupuncture in Manitoba. (Regulations governing acupuncturists are already in place in Ontario, Quebec, and B.C., according to Dr. Kerr.)

Consistent standards of treatment
Many of the patients that Dr. Kerr has been seeing since she first opened her practice here in June, 2007 have been referred to her by other physicians. (It is not necessary to have a referral in order to be seen by Dr. Kerr.) In each case, regardless whether the patient is a referral or whether the patient has booked an appointment directly, Dr. Kerr s initial meeting with the patient will include taking a history and a physical examination. The first consultation will be approximately one hour long, she says.

After determining a diagnosis using Chinese Medicine methods, Dr. Kerr will plan future sessions, depending upon the severity of the condition with which the patient presents, and how the patient responds to treatments. Each subsequent session lasts approximately 30 minutes.

Statistics being compiled for pain study
For some time now Dr. Kerr has been collecting and analyzing data from almost 150 of her patients, who agreed to participate in a long-term pain study, in which every patient is required to attend at least 11 acupuncture sessions.

The data that she has been collecting and will be collecting is sent to a medical statistics professional. Eventually Dr. Kerr s research should provide a more definitive understanding of for whom acupuncture treatments work best.

There is room in the study for 150 more patients, according to Dr. Kerr. If a patient wishes to participate in the study, however, it will be necessary for the patient to receive a referral from his/her doctor. The advantage for any patient willing to participate in the study is that they will be able to receive a 50% reduction in the normal rate charged for treatments.

If you are interested in being a part of this groundbreaking study, you can print off a referral form from Dr. Kerr s website at www.priscillakerr.com, along with a letter that explains the purpose of Dr. Kerr s study. You will then be able to approach your own physician with the letter and referral form.

In the form, your physician will be asked to provide certain information about you, including: age, main diagnosis, what type of pain you are experiencing, for how long you have been experiencing the pain, and intensity level of the pain (on a score of 1-10); in addition, the doctor will be asked to provide any other pertinent information.

Completed referral forms can either be faxed to Dr. Kerr (204-775-6373), or mailed to her c/o Prairie Medical Acupuncture Clinic, c/o Manitoba Clinic, 790 Sherbrook St., Winnipeg MB R3A 1M3. The only stipulation for anyone wishing to participate in the study, according to Dr. Kerr, is that they not have received any other acupuncture treatments in the six months previous.

Based upon results to date, patients have been experiencing a marked reduction in pain levels. It is Dr. Kerr s ultimate hope that, once acupuncture is regulated as a medical practice the same as other areas of Western medicine, she will be able to work together with medical schools and hospitals to conduct a double blind, randomized study of acupuncture – as she was able to do when was at the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine.

Her plan is to be able to publish the results of her study in a medical journal by the end of this year. (All patients will remain completely anonymous, she says.)

Recent advancements in understanding how acupuncture works
In studies that are being conducted at a wide range of academic centres, scientists have been using sophisticated techniques of neuroimaging to study changes in brain activity during acupuncture treatments. In one study Dr. Vitaly Napadow, a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist (and practicing acupuncturist) has “observed gene expression and molecular changes in the nervous and immune systems”in patients receiving acupuncture treatments.

According to the latest scientific findings, acupuncture is believed to work in three different ways: It is thought to conduct electromagnetic signals that may start the flow of pain-killing chemicals, such as endorphins, and of immune system cells to specific sites in the body that are injured or vulnerable to disease.

Secondly, acupuncture is thought to release several types of opioids into the central nervous system, thereby reducing pain.

Finally, acupuncture is thought to alter brain chemistry by changing the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones.

In the course of her training as an acupuncturist, Dr. Kerr has often been invited to give lectures to other physicians on the scientific basis of acupuncture. Following is an excerpt from one of her lectures:

“Acupuncture first captured the interest of Western science through its ability to induce anaesthesia and analgesia…Acupuncture stimulates the secretion of endogenous morphine-like substances called endorphins…which act on the opiate receptor sites and inhibit the transmission of pain signals.”

Not only does acupuncture have a demonstrable role in pain management, Dr. Kerr went on to note, studies have shown that it also effective in the treatment of “gastrointestinal disorders, psychological illnesses, motor function disorder, and metabolic diseases.”

Various studies over the years have shown that needle insertion activates pain fibbers in the skin. Subsequently, these pain fibbers trigger a cascade of chemical messengers, according to the theory, while sending signals to the spinal cord, which relays messages to the brain stem.

For an experienced acupuncturist such as Dr. Kerr, knowledge of the hundreds of acupuncture points on the body leads to activation of specific regions of the brain in Chinese medical theory.

Using sterile and disposable needles (thinner than an insulin needle), during a single treatment, Dr. Kerr says that patients are aware of the needle insertion, but do not experience any discomfort. On average, the needles (numbering no more than 20) will be left in 15-20 minutes.

When asked whether acupuncture is equally effective in the treatment of all disorders for which it is recommended, Dr. Kerr suggested that acupuncture is particularly successful in the treatment of the following conditions: pain disorders, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, tendonitis, arthritic conditions, stroke , addictions, anxiety disorders, depression and asthma.

Now. as a pre-eminent expert in the field of acupuncture, Dr. Kerr is offering the vast amount of experience and learning that she has absorbed over the years to Winnipeggers who may have found themselves frustrated at their inability to receive effective treatments for their conditions through Western medicine.

 

Preliminary results from Dr. Kerr s pain study
Number of patients in study: 119
Males 35
Females 84
Average age of patients 56
Total number of acupuncture sessions administered 1074
Average number of years of pain that patients
had experienced prior to participating in the study:
4

 

Symptoms of patients (by percentage):
Lower back pain 27%
Fibromyalgia 10%
Shoulder pain 10%
Hip pain 6%
Leg pain 5%
Myofascial pain 4%
Rheumatoid arthritis pain 5%
Headaches 3%
Sciatica pain 3%
Osteoarthrosis 1 6%
Pelvic pain 3%
Migraine 1.6%
Postherpetic neuralgia 1.6%
Ankle pain and tendonitis 1.6%
Plantar fasciitis 1.6%
Gastric/stomach pain 0.8%
Abdominal pain 0.8%
Thumb joint pain 0.8%

 

Results:
64% of all patients indicated that their pain decreased by 50% after a treatment.
6% of all patients indicated that they were pain free after a treatment.
19% of all patient indicated that they were pain free altogether following 18 months of treatments.

 

From: Lifestyles – Spring and Summer 2010