Updated: November 5th, 2020

Maryland University of Integrative Health’s Research Symposium is an annual event that highlights the University’s research and scholarship. This free event will offer several highlights, including a presentation by this year’s winner of the MUIH Excellence in Research and Scholarship Award, Michael Tims, Ph.D.  His presentation, titled “Design, Development, and Implementation of Two Student-assisted Research Studies” will cover some of the innovative work he has conducted in his role as Academic Director for Herbal Programs at MUIH. We recently interviewed Dr. Tims about his presentation, and the importance of research in herbal medicine.

What is the importance of research studies in the various fields of integrative medicine?

If we reframe research as inquiry-based learning, that process is a core element for herbal product designers, scientists and clinicians. In each of those realms of expertise, the process of generating questions is more important than the first, simple answers. Each realm needs to be comfortable failing. Failure is an opportunity and sets the direction for next set of inquiries.

How do the Herbal Medicine Programs at MUIH incorporate research into a student’s curriculum?

Here at MUIH, we’re constantly engaging in inquiry-based learning. Scientific research begins when someone generates data, and then a cohort of scientific peers review the data and determines which conclusions can be supported. Science is a learning process. Our students learn to move from consuming information to evaluating and assessing information, so they can eventually propose new forms of inquiry. The goal is that no matter the result of a research project, students will gain new skills and develop a professional network that can support their careers after they graduate.

Tell me a little bit about the student-assisted studies noted in your presentation. What was the subject of the studies and what were the outcomes?

One of the studies focused on developing methods to assess lavender adulteration, and was supported in part by a grant awarded in 2015 by Emerson Ecologics. Lavandula angustifolia is the scientific name for the lavender we use for medicinal and aromatic properties. Several other lavender cultivars exist in the market place, whose individual aromas are less subtle and attractive. They are sometimes used to replace (adulterate) Lavandula angustifolia because they are less expensive. Herbal supplement manufacturers must ensure that their product is as identified, and do not contain adulterants.

As we conducted our analyses, we also concentrated on outlining an educational process that smaller producers in the herbal industry can follow to incorporate these methods into their lavender Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). The outcomes of the study will support the efforts of these producers to comply with US Food and Drug Administration regulations, which require drug manufacturers, processors, and packagers to implement procedures that ensure their products are safe and pure.

How can students of MUIH programs gain hands-on experience assisting research studies?

Students following our Herbal Product Design concentration are encouraged to participate in internships that include assisting in research studies. They’ll also complete our Dispensary Practices and Quality Assessment of Herbal Medicine course. The course develops the ability of the student to identify and evaluate the authenticity and quality of raw herbal material using analysis, microscopic and macroscopic identification, and interpretation of assay and spec sheets. It combines the analytical rigor of quality control with the whole-system aspects of quality assurance in an industry context. Additionally, they’ll take a Professional Career Trajectory course that will help them determine their career focus area and offer resources on how to get there.

Are there any graduates of the herbal programs at MUIH who are now working in the research field?

Some of our graduates are working in medical establishments, and others work for herbal manufacturing companies. But we teach all the students in the herbal studies program to speak two sets of languages, both traditional herbal medicine and contemporary evidence-based research. This strengthens their abilities to act as educators for herbal supplement companies, internally for product design and externally to communicate with consumers about the efficacy and safety of the product.  Having both these skills allows our herbal clinical graduates to determine a course of treatment, and to communicate with clients the role herbal treatment can play in wellness care.

You can learn more about Dr. Tims and his presentation on student-assisted research studies at the Maryland University of Integrative Health Research Symposium on March 24, 2017, 5 – 8 p.m. Learn more and register for the free symposium here.