Rachel Roberts and Alexander Tournier
After the success of the Homeopathy Research Institute’s previous conferences on ‘Cutting Edge Research in Homeopathy’ in Barcelona 2013 and Rome 2015, the expectations for Malta 2017 were high. Delegates were not left disappointed, enjoying a fast-paced programme of the highest calibre research yet, in an inspiringly beautiful and historic location. The continuing commitment of the research community to generate high quality studies in this rapidly evolving field was clear. In this report we present highlights from this memorable event, described by many attendees as ‘the best HRI conference yet’.
Providing a platform for global research
As homeopathy continues to stimulate intense debate in many parts of the world, research is playing an ever more vital role in the development of homeopathy as an academic field and medical discipline. The Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) was proud to once again host a world-class event, this time on the stunning island of Malta.
102 abstracts underwent rigorous peer review to produce the fast-paced diverse programme of 36 oral presentations and 37 posters, presented by researchers from 19 countries. 200 delegates joined us from 25 countries, including first-time attendees and those who had been to both previous HRI conferences.
“This is the premiere research conference in homeopathy – it is definitely the leading event of its type.”
Dr Peter Fisher,Clinical Director, Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, UK
The conference was opened by keynote speaker, Prof Michael Frass (Germany) and Dr Elio Rossi (Italy), who both presented data on the positive role that adjunctive homeopathic treatment can play in cancer patients. Drawing on his vast experience, Prof Frass called for an increased use of homeopathy alongside conventional care for patients with cancer, listing a wide scope of potential applications. For Prof Frass, the most important of these is the enhancement of patients’ quality of life1, which was also echoed by Dr Rossi’s presentation based on his work in Lucca, Italy.
Dr Emma Macías-Cortés (Mexico) presented her keynote address describing a high quality double-blind, double-dummy superiority trial, comparing three test groups receiving homeopathy or fluoxetine or placebo; this study demonstrated the clinical benefits of individualised homeopathy for peri- and post-menopausal women with depression2. These three key presentations highlight the largely un-tapped potential of homeopathic care when provided within public funded hospitals in real-world settings, demonstrating what can be achieved for the good of the patient when homeopathy is integrated into conventional healthcare.
Dr Stephan Baumgartner (Germany) and Prof Harald Walach (Germany) looked back over two decades of research in their respective fields, with the ultimate aim of framing our next steps for future research.
Dr Baumgartner presented an overview of key experimental models that have now demonstrated reproducible and reliable differences between ultra-high dilutions and controls. Dr Baumgartner noted many problems he faced when performing in vitro and in vivo basic experiments on ultra-high dilutions. He stressed that we should not be deterred when experiments ‘don’t work’, but instead face the challenges presented head on; for example, as often deeper understanding of the experimental system reveals the subtle parameters which lead to success or failure of the experiments.
Similarly, in the closing keynote address, Prof Walach gave a thought provoking and challenging presentation on his response to being faced with questions of non-reproducibility in tests of proving symptoms. In particular, Prof Walach took an innovative approach to his observations, postulating that remedy effects are non-local and thus require the design of any experiment, proving or clinical test to consider the underlying assumptions being made about the direction of cause and effect of remedies3.
“It was fantastic to hear so many people saying this was our best conference yet, but seeing the conference close with a spontaneous standing ovation…. that was totally unexpected and incredibly moving. I couldn’t be more proud of the HRI conference team.”
Rachel Roberts, HRI Chief Executive
Rachel Roberts & Dr. AlexanderTournier
Back row from left: Em Colley, Simon Wilkinson-Blake, Alex Tournier
Front row from left: Phil Hurring, Liz Thompson, Rachel Roberts.
Interactive panel discussion sessions
New for HRI Malta 2017 were two interactive panel discussion sessions. These sessions were designed to involve all delegates, and to further promote the exchange of ideas, encouraging a unified approach to solving the challenges faced by homeopathy today. The first panel discussion session tackled Homeopathy and Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) – a topic recently announced by the WHO as one of the main future challenges in public health. To set the scene, Dr Fisher’s presentation emphasised the impact of AMR on both human health and the spiralling costs of conventional healthcare; Dr Fixsen discussed the evidence of homeopathic interventions in upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and Petra Klement further supported this point, presenting the results of a new placebo-controlled trial showing that the homeopathic complex Tonsilotren decreased infection rates in patients with recurrent tonsillitis.
The subsequent panel discussion revolved around the fact that despite encouraging results, complementary treatment approaches are still not part of the available treatment guidelines for infectious diseases or the global WHO strategy for tackling antimicrobial resistance. This raised the important question of how we can implement and encourage the inclusion of homeopathy as a viable contributor to tackling this global problem.
The second panel discussion on “Research priorities for the future” was opened with a short presentation from Hazel Partington and Dr Jean Duckworth (UK) who described preliminary results from their Delphi study on future directions in homeopathy research. The study canvassed opinions from experts and stakeholders in the homeopathy and research communities on what they perceived to have been the most significant or impactful piece of research to date; priorities for future research; and the audiences that need to be reached by future studies.
Each panel member (Dr Stephan Baumgartner, Dr Robbert van Haselen, Dr Elizabeth Thompson and Dr Alexander Tournier) gave a brief summary of what they felt to be the priorities for future research before inviting delegates to contribute. The discussion covered the need for mixed portfolios of evidence, the advantages of pragmatic trials and cohort studies, focusing on effectiveness gap conditions, considering how clinicians use evidence and a reminder that priorities may be different in countries where attitudes to homeopathy are different.
Clinical research highlights
Three clinical research sessions included recent studies on a wide range of clinical conditions and the challenges faced in a number of different research settings. Presentations were given by Dr José Eizayaga (Argentina – aggravations), Philippa Fibert (UK – ADHD), Dr Christien Klein-Laansma (Netherlands – PMS), Dr Lex Rutten (Netherlands – cough), Dr Rajesh Shah (India – recurrent respiratory tract infections) and Prof KaLun Aaron To (Hong Kong – diabetes).
In addition to performing new clinical studies, analysing the published scientific literature is also essential for informing future research. To this end, Dr Robert Mathie (UK) gave two presentations covering the latest work in his programme of systematic reviews – his study of pragmatic trials comparing homeopathy with ‘other than placebo’ controls, and his review covering double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trials of non-individualised homeopathic treatment4. The latter found that including model validity in assessment of trial “reliability” had an important impact on the results.
Similarly, Dr Katharina Gaertner (Switzerland) described the work of their team performing a systematic review of clinical trials including observational studies, quoting the work of Concatoet al5 showing that well conducted observational studies yield similar results to randomised controlled trials and thus can justifiably be included in large-scale reviews of homeopathy studies.
In stark contrast, Rachel Roberts (UK) opened with a searing indictment of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s report on homeopathy. Roberts’ analysis and meticulous critique revealed multiple methodological flaws in the ‘Australian Report’ and ended with the damning conclusion that these errors are a case of misfeasance, not innocent scientific error6.
“Conferences like this act as an essential catalyst, sparking new collaborations, and providing a place for homeopathy researchers to enjoy and share in each other’s passion for their work. HRI is honoured to offer our colleagues an inspiring respite from the hard battles we often face in our common pursuit of scientific excellence in this field.”
Dr Alexander Tournier, HRI Chairman
Lab-based and plant-based research highlights
The synergistic importance of clinical and basic research in homeopathy was a key theme in Rome 2015. Again, in Malta, it was clear that as we make great strides in clarifying and improving the clinical evidence base in homeopathy, equally large strides are also being made in understanding the fundamental nature of homeopathic medicines and their actions in living systems.
Sandra Würtenberger (Germany) presented the results of a systematic review of physicochemical studies of homeopathic potencies and Dr Alexander Tournier (Germany) asked the question of whether homeopathy really is that implausible, looking at the physics behind current theories of homeopathy’s mechanism of action. These overviews were supported by a number of presentations of original laboratory studies in different sessions showing clear differences between ultra-high dilutions and controls using a wide range of experimental systems. Presentations were given by Dr Gustavo Aguilar-Velazquez (Mexico – E. angustifolia and T. occidentalis on cervical cancer cells), Dr Leoni Bonamin (Brazil – Phosphorus on macrophages), Dr Steven Cartwright (UK – potency interactions with solvatochromic dyes), Dr Maria Olga Kokornaczyk (Switzerland – As45x on wheat seeds), Dr Claire Laurant (France – anti-mutagenic effects of a combination remedy), Anezka Marie Sokol (Germany – various homeopathic 30x preparations on germinating cress seedlings), AnnekathrinÜcker (Germany – Arsenicum album on duckweed growth rates) and Dr Michel van Wassenhoven (Belgium – analysing the fundamental properties of potentised Cuprum metallicum and Gelsemium sempervirens using multiple techniques).